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Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman Review

A man performs an exorcism in the film Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman

Kim Seong-sik’s Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman is a likeable and fun blend of genres that suffers from an overly safe second half.

If you’re a fan of movies centred around exorcists, 2023 really was your year. For whatever reason, “exorcist-mania” seemed to sweep the nation, as we got a plethora of films all focused around people loudly shouting at demons, trying to kindly convince them to vacate whichever human body they tried to inhabit that week. It’s lovely to see that this fascination wasn’t only found in the west, as it seems like Asia received their own contribution to the ever-growing genre as well last year, in the form of Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman, a delightful South Korean fantasy-horror-thriller-action fest that might have just been 2023’s best exorcist-centred film. 

Based on the hit Korean webtoon “Possessed” (2015-2016) by Fresh and Kim Hong-tae, Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman follows the titular exorcist (Gang Dong-won), a fraud who doesn’t actually believe in any of the things he pretends to vanquish. However, after taking on a particularly enticing job, he finds himself caught up in the middle of an incredibly strange and fantastical series of events. It’s all a lot of fun, but my first problem is that Dr. Cheon is very much a film of two halves. It starts very strongly, establishing a cast of fun, engaging characters and an exciting central mystery, one that seemed primed to deliver a genuinely chilling paranormal horror film. However, this isn’t the path that Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman chooses to take, and whilst I don’t mind its pivot to a more conventional fantasy action thriller on paper, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a decline in my engagement once the film had revealed its hand.

What Dr. Cheon has going for it is just how fun the whole thing is. The script, written by Kim Seong-sik and Park Joong-seop, is consistently laugh-out-loud funny and Lee Dong-hwi is easily the standout performer when it comes to delivering the jokes. As for the action itself, it’s absolutely satisfactory. There’s no crazy setpieces or particularly inventive sequences, but it’s enough to keep you entertained. That’s part of my problem, though: it’s all a bit too safe. It’s like a margarita pizza: perfectly enjoyable, sure, but perhaps a bit too basic, especially when you look at all of the other options. Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman isn’t going to blow your mind, but enough of it works to where I can’t get annoyed at it, or even dislike it. It’s good, and maybe that’s enough.

A man and a woman stand in the fog, looking determined, in the film Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman
Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman (Well Go USA)

One thing that did cross my mind watching Dr. Cheon was that it feels exactly like what western cinema needs right now. A fresh, pun intended, blockbuster featuring an incredibly charismatic lead that is just content with being an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes, not a feature-length advert painstakingly designed by Disney to help sell amusement park tickets. There’s something to be said about how, whilst its third act can feel like it somewhat devolves into CGI mush, Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman never loses me because it always retains its charm. 

A large part of that feels like it’s the work of Gang Dong-won, whose smooth-talking fraud is exactly the kind of “bad boy” lead who feels like he was made in a lab with the specific function of getting TikTok edits posted of him. He’s likeable from the film’s opening frames, and he reminded me a lot of the swashbuckling, adventuring leads that used to populate mainstream cinema decades ago. Esom also does a great job as the film’s female lead, a lady who can see the ghosts and ghouls that Dr. Cheon so vehemently denies the existence of. There’s a scene near the beginning that is probably the most tense the film gets, and a large part of why that works is down to her performance, to the point where I wish we were given a lot more moments like that. 

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman may not be the most memorable or exciting film out there, but it’s a solid blockbuster, the likes of which I wish Hollywood would learn from. At the end of the day, there’s a special place in the film world for 3.5/5 blockbusters that you can recommend to your family knowing for certain that they’ll enjoy, because it’s little more than just a fun time at the pictures. There’s nothing particularly challenging or new about it, but what it does, it does well enough to satisfy, providing plenty of fun, entertaining moments along the way, and even a few chills, and at the very least, it is significantly better than the other exorcist films we got in 2023.

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman will be released on Blu-ray & DVD on February 27, 2023. Read our reviews of The Pope’s Exorcist, Deliver Us, and The Exorcist: Believer.

Dr. Cheon and the Lost Talisman: Trailer (Well Go USA)
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