The Magician (Joseon Magician) Movie Recap
I love this movie, not only because of Yoo Seung-Ho (though I must admit he’s the major reason) but because it offers something more than your average sageuk movie. It’s not perfect, considering that it has obvious plot holes but at least it has its redeeming traits.
Since it’s a sageuk it has the typical elements of war, political conspiracies and revenge plots. I love that amidst all the dark themes is a pure and cute love story of an unlikely pair. I also appreciate the pinch of comic reliefs randomly thrown in the movie once in a while. And lastly, I think the integration of magic in the flirting, courting and fighting scenes is a unique touch.
In a nutshell, this movie is about a Joseon Princess who was sold to the Qing Dynasty to be married. A chance encounter with a handsome magician changed her fate and they began a romance that may put the entire dynasty to chaos.
Hwan-Hee (Yoo Seung-Ho) is hailed as the best magician in Morangroo, a popular red-light district area in Uiji. Despite his popularity, he is actually unhappy and longs to go back to the carefree life with his friend Bo-Eum (Jo Yoon-Hee).
Bo-Eum loves Hwan-Hee but it’s clearly one-sided. Even though she’s blind, she tries to protect Hwan-Hee at all cost and has become a known acupuncturist, gisaeng and palm-reader in the district.
Both Hwan-Hee and Bo-Eum suffers from a traumatic past under the abusive exploits of Gwi-Mol (Kwak Do-Won), an evil magician from the Qing Dynasty. Eventually, Hwan-Hee betrayed him and they escape from his claws. For years, Hwan-Hee and Bo-Eum live in fear as Gwi-Mol’s impending revenge constantly threatens their very existence. Their worst fear comes true and Gwi-Mol catches up to them in Morangroo.
Due to the bad weather condition, the convoy of a Joseon Princess who is sold to the Qing Dynasty for a diplomatic marriage stays at Uiji. The Princess’ name was not really revealed in the movie but Hwan-Hee called her Cheong-Myung (Go Ara) so we will name her as such.
Like Hwan-Hee, Cheong-Myung is also unhappy with her circumstance. She doesn’t want to get married and she hates being royal. After arriving at Uiji, she decides to stretch and sneaks out of her quarters. Unfortunately, she gets separated from her maid and wanders around the area unescorted. She passes by a group of beggars and they gather around her, desperately begging for food. She loses her shoes in the mayhem and runs to the mountainside for safety.
She reaches a cliff and there she slowly walks towards its edge. Hwan-Hee happens to be there. He assumes she’s going to commit suicide so he tells her to go somewhere else because it’s HIS private place. However, his presence scares her. To defend herself, she draws a tiny knife and yields it at him multiple times but she loses her footing and nearly falls down the cliff. On instinct Hwan-Hee grabs her. His action only scares her more. She bites and continues her assaults so he seizes the tiny knife and throws it away. Still, she won’t give in and hits him with her bare hands. Hwan-Hee takes hold of her hands too, so she resorts to headbutting. Haha! They roll down the hill and stops on a very compromising position. She starts headbutting him again. Haha!
Multiple headbutts and a nosebleed later, all Hwan-Hee could say is “How could you do this to me?” Gawd, it’s funny! Still she refuses to apologize even if he DID save her life. He had enough and angrily leaves first. But when she didn’t follow him, he returns for her. Turns out, she’s looking for the tiny knife, claiming that it’s far more important than her life. Hwan-Hee wonders that if the knife is that important then why did she want to die in the first place? Cheong-Myung insists that she has no thoughts of dying and starts to cry.
Because of her unexpected emotional flare-up, Hwan-Hee panics. In an effort to calm her down, he shows her a magic trick (producing a firefly out of nothing) but it simply goes unnoticed. So he tries producing more fireflies. Ha! That gets it done.
Before they part ways, Hwan-Hee lends her his shoes and gives her money for fare. He assumes she’s a runaway so he instructs her to go north. Cheon-Myung doesn’t even have the chance to correct his assumptions because he keeps on telling her what to do. A strong wind suddenly blows, giving her the chance to see his blue eye which he usually covers with his hair. That night, Hwan-Hee and Cheong-Myung thinks about their fated encounter. I love that Hwan-Hee is all giddy thinking about the feisty Cheong-Myung.
The next morning, Cheong-Myung overhears her maids talking about a blue-eyed magician. Mustering all her courage, she tells Ahn Dong-Whi (Lee Kyoung-Young), her personal guardian, of her plans to watch the magician’s show. He doesn’t allow it at first due to safety reasons, but because she insists and evokes her authority as the princess, he reluctantly concedes.
Hwan-Hee sees Cheong-Myung among the crowd and guesses that she’s one of the ladies in the palace and he’s pretty much excited to see her again. He uses his magical talent for flirting and chooses Cheong-Myung to be his guest assistant. While performing his tricks, he subtly tells her to meet up at the cliff where they first met.
For the finale act of the night, Cheong-Myung is instructed to unlock the restraint that binds Hwan-Hee in a contraption. The trick is for Hwan-Hee to escape from the contraption before the large blade above it cuts him to half. But Cheong-Myung fails to find the right key and the blade falls. Cheong-Myung is traumatized and cries in disbelief. When she learns he’s actually alive, she awards him a resounding slap. Unbeknownst to all of them, Hwan-Hee’s assistant who is holding a grudge against him tries to sabotage the show. Thankfully the assistant changed his mind and stops the real blade from falling.
All the while, Kim Gap Seo (Son Byung-Ho), sold the Morangroo to Gwi-Hol, including its crew and of course, Hwan-Hee.
Ahn Dong-Whi talks with Cheong-Myung about her hardheadedness lately. She originally thought he hates her, but to her surprise he commends her bravery, saying that it’s the first time she behaved like a real princess. In the future, he hopes she’ll say what she wants, even in Qing Dynasty.
Hwan-Hee waits for Cheong-Myung at the cliff. When he hears some noise, he immediately takes his position and mumbles his practiced lines. But to his dismay, it’s just goats. Haha! He goes to her quarters and there he finds her stuck in a hole. Haha! Anyways, Cheong-Myung acts as if she’s not excited to see him and uses the knife as an excuse to be with him. Awww!
Cheong-Myung and Hwan-Hee passes by the group of beggars and they find a mother of four, dead and lying on the ground. The unfortunate scene touches Cheong-Myung’s heart and pleads Hwan-Hee to help the children. Despite his apathetic views and unwillingness to help, he concedes and ends up digging the grave for the deceased.
Cheong-Myung shares that even though the kids are ill-fated for becoming orphans at a young age, she’s still envious of them. Even in extreme poverty, their mom didn’t forsake them. Unlike her who was abandoned and sold. She never intended to die that night (referring to their first meeting). She just wanted to go to a place where no one will abandon her or judge her. Since, they didn’t find the knife, they agreed to meet up again tomorrow night.
Hwan-Hee falls for Cheong-Myung right then and to make her happy, he secretly looks for her knife. With the help of his loyal friends, he finds the oh-so important knife. It’s funny that his friends keep on complaining that he should just use his magic to look for it and he just tells them “Magic is just for a show, not for real life”. Yeah, that statement comes from a magician. Rather ironic!
Ahn Dong-Whi knows of Cheong-Myung and Hwan-Hee’s nightly rituals and decides to put his hands on the matter. He demands that the convoy leaves Uiji ASAP but Cheong-Myung proves to be wiser and feigns illness. The officials then invites Bo-Eum to check on her health. Even though Bo-Eum knows Cheong-Myung is just faking it, she goes with the princess’ story. They become instant friends and Bo-Eum offers to read Cheong-Myung’s future. She foretells that Cheong-Myung is a lucky woman because she will be loved all her life. Cheong-Myung finds it difficult to believe because of the obvious predicament she’s in, but Bo-Eum remains confident that it’ll come true. And because the princess’ health is at stake, the officials resolve to overrule Ahn Dong-Whi’s previous plan of resuming the journey.
Cheong-Myung is successful in delaying her travel but Ahn Dong-Whi also finds a way to prevent her from slipping out during the night. Hwan-Hee isn’t going to leave it at that and uses his magic tricks to scare the guards. Haha! Ahn Dong-Whi and Cheong-Myung’s relationship is kind of cute. They’re more like father and daughter than guardian and princess.
Now that they’re together, Hwan-Hee asks if the princess is beautiful. She’s acting all shy and bashful when she answers yes. Haha! He then wonders if the princess will go back home. And she says she will if the Qing Dynasty won’t treat her well. Hwan-Hee remarks that even if they’ll do, the princess won’t live a peaceful life because she’ll always be a major target in numerous assassination plots. And if he was in the princess’ shoes he’ll just commit suicide and die. This gets Cheong-Myung riled up, because of the fact that SHE IS THE PRINCESS he’s talking about. In anger, she asks him “Don’t know who I am?” In all seriousness, he tells her he does and laughs, saying he’s just joking around. Okay, even though he said that, he still doesn’t know she’s the princess.
While walking along the mountainside, they see a bear. Conveniently, there’s a rope attached to a pulley lying around the place. And so Hwan-Hee grabs the rope, which carried them to the top of the trees. Coincidence? Nope. It’s actually part of Hwan-Hee’s courting moves. Thanks to his loyal friends who dressed up like a bear, he was able to have some skinship with Cheong-Myung. Haha!
Cheong-Myung is getting frustrated for not finding the knife. She gives up and ask Hwan-Hee to teach her magic instead. This, of course, provides more reasons to meet up every night. Haha!
However, Cheong-Myung’s maid has been gossiping about her nightly strolls. Ahn Dong-Whi is outraged and tells his second in command to stop the rumors. He was about to scold Cheong-Myung but decides otherwise when he sees her happily showing off her newly learned magic tricks.
This is one of my favorite scenes. Hwan-Hee is teaching Cheong-Myung another magic trick (turning stone to a ring). He takes the ring and slips it on her finger. Gawd, my heart cringes when he tells her it suits her well and smiles. Smooth. Really smooth.
Hwan-Hee shares more about his background. He wanted to learn magic because it made him happy when people are entertained by his tricks. But the truth is, he’s just an actor with no talent. And he may not be a great magician or a great man, but he promises to give his best and help her.
Hwan-Hee and Cheong-Myung are having a good time talking at the fields. Without their knowledge, assassins are lurking on the sidelines. Thank goodness, Ahn Dong-Whi has been following them and kills one of the crooks.
Hwan-Hee brings Cheong-Myung to a bird house. He asks for her name but she refuses to give it. So, he names her Cheong-Myung because she brightens up the day. She likes it so it’s settled. He returns her knife but she tells him she doesn’t need it anymore. She wants him to keep it so he’ll remember her always. But Hwan-Hee doesn’t need a reminder of her, he thinks about her all the time and confesses that he already loves her. Cheong-Myung is rendered speechless so he gives her a back hug, turns her around and they share a passionate kiss. Kyaaah!
Bo-Eum interrupts the moment. She knows Cheong-Myung is there so she purposely tells Hwan-Hee that they can never leave the place, simply because this is where they belong. She then reminds him not to make any decisions he’ll soon regret. Of course, she’s not only talking to Hwan-Hee but to Cheong-Myung as well.
Ahn Dong-Whi chastises Cheong-Myung for her irresponsible actions. She knows too well that if her brewing relationship with Hwan-Hee leaks, everyone will be punished, even her beloved Hwan-Hee. Yes, she knows. She’s not that naïve but what can she do? Hwan-Hee is the only man who treats her like a commoner.
The convoy is scheduled to leave the next day. Hwan-Hee is desperate to see Cheong-Myung one last time so he begs Bo-Eum to take him with her. But nothing prepared him for the greatest shock of his life. There he learns that Cheong-Myung is indeed the Joseon Princess. But his struggle doesn’t end there because he has been accused of stealing the Seojin sword!
Cheong-Myung defends Hwan-Hee’s innocence, claiming that he cannot be the culprit because she was with him that time. Ahn Dong-Whi is pissed at her declarations. How could she defend him in public? But Cheong-Myung stands her ground. She was once afraid to speak what she wants but she’s not scared anymore. All the while, Hwan-Hee overhears the whole conversation.
Hwan-Hee denies all the allegations and further explains how the authentic Seojin sword is interchanged with a fake. Turns out, it’s a common trick among magicians and there’s only one magician in mind, the evil Gwi-Mol. Ahn Dong-Whi chooses to believe him and let him escape on the condition that he hides until the real Seojin sword is found.
Cheong-Myung is clearly depressed. She doesn’t eat or talk. She breaks down when one of her maids took away Hwan-Hee’s shoes (the one he gave to her the night they first met). She looks for Ahn Dong-Whi and desperately pleads to let her talk with Hwan-Hee. She promises to return and all she ask is to say goodbye to him properly.
They meet at the cliff and Hwan-Hee brings her to the riverbank where a boat is waiting for them. He persuades her to go with him to the place where no one will be sold and no guards to restrict her freedom. With a weary heart, Cheong-Myung puts a conclusion to their romance. She loves him but she cannot forsake her people. Before she met him, she dreads every tomorrow that comes. But with him, she prays that every tomorrow never runs out. Their love will live forever, but it’ll only be a reality in her heart. She bids goodbye and says sorry for letting go.
Hwan-Hee runs after her but to his horror, Gwi-Mol appears and suddenly disappears in front of him. He’s terribly stunned. He follows Cheong-Myung’s convoy but he finds her guards and escorts dead and she’s missing!
Gwi-Mol finally declares himself as the owner of the Morangroo. Bo-Eum is undeniably frightened by him. When Ahn Dong-Whi and his men, came knocking at the door, Kim Gap Soo tries to pacify the growing tension. But Gwi-Mol isn’t that diplomatic. He’s not there for the Princess or for the Seojin sword. He wants to settle the score between him and Hwan-Hee. His goon kills Kim Gap Soo and blamed it to Ahn Dong-Whi. A fight between the two groups erupt.
Bo-Eum staggers to flee from Gwi-Mol. It’s almost impossible to do because she’s blind. Even with her condition, he still hits her mercilessly. Bo-Eum attacks her with a knife but she misses. Gwi-Mol then tells her that she’ll be the bait to lure Hwan-Hee. Bo-Eum isn’t going to allow that so she chooses to kill herself.
The inevitable finally arrives. Hwan-Hee must face Gwi-Mol once and for all. They must end all unfinished business now. But, Hwan-Hee is not match to Gwi-Mol’s tricks. He uses shadow illusions and makes Hwan-Hee kill his friends. Hwan-Hee gives up and begs for death. But a quick death is not part of Gwi-Mol’s masterplan.
Cheong-Myung wakes up lying and trapped in the same contraption Hwan-Hee used for his death-defying trick earlier in the movie. Hwan-Hee, on the other hand, is cuffed up. He tries desperately to escape from his bounds but the rope holding the blade is all burned up. Thankfully, Hwan-Hee’s friends come on time to prevent the blade from falling.
Hwan-Hee finally escapes. But because Gwi-Mol is bigger, stronger and meaner, he is beaten to a pulp. The fighting scene is extremely difficult to recap so I’ll cut it short and tell you that Hwan-Hee survived the critical blows and won the day. Haha!
In the end, Ahn Dong-Whi helps Hwan-Hee and Cheong-Myung escape. Next scene, we find them on the cliff. Both are very emotional, probably because they know how things will end up for them. It’ll be a disaster to go back and the future is dim. They have no choice. Hand in hand, they jump off the cliff. Their bodies were never found. Some says they were swept off the current. Others say the vanished because of magic. No one really knows what happened after that.
Few years later, we see Ahn Dong-Whi narrating Hwan-Hee and Cheong-Myung’s story to his niece. It’s good that he survived the bloodbath. He then receives a package. He looks at it and laugh. Why it’s a painting of Hwan-Hee and Cheong-Myung with some kid (I’m guessing their son) and some people (I’m guessing their own Morangroo crew). By the looks of it, they are now performers in the streets of Europe!