The Korea Herald


[Herald Review] ‘Wonka’ is sweetest take on a childhood dream

‘Wonka’ Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon says he wanted to imbue movie with warmth

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Jan. 25, 2024 - 21:32

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“Wonka” (Warner Bros. Pictures) “Wonka” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Timothee Chalamet piles on the charm in “Wonka” to provide a mesmerizing back story of one of Roald Dahl's most famous characters.

Throughout the 116-minute runtime, it’s hard to take your eyes away from the fantasy-like journey Wonka (Chalamet) takes to open a chocolate shop and become the world-renowned chocolatier, a promise that he made his mother.

The movie begins with Wonka pompously stepping into a town in Europe with 12 sovereign coins in his pocket and an old hat. When he sings the movie’s big number, “A Hatful of Dreams,” the audience is captivated by this charming character and persuaded by his dream to be the world’s best chocolatier.

The story unfolds rapidly as Wonka encounters a “chocolate cartel” and their plot to kick Wonka out of town as their business is threatened. But next to this aspiring magician, inventor, and chocolatier is an orphan Noodle and four other trustworthy supporters -- captives -- who he meets at Mrs. Scrubitt’s launderette.

The way Wonka makes fantastic chocolates, flies above the zoo with balloons in his hand and finally opening the Wonka chocolate shop at Galleries Gourmet never leaves the audience with a dull moment. The splendid mise-en-scene and creatively colorful chocolates and candies will have you yearning for your childhood.

Besides the sophistication shown in the production’s total creation of a fantasy-like chocolate world, what really immerses the audience in the storyline is Chalamet's performance.

He embodies Wonka seamlessly, excelling both visually and in characterization. "Wonka" is not a conventional musical, but his choreography and singing is flawless during the musical numbers.

Chalamet's warm-hearted, boyish Wonka is much more satisfying than Johnny Depp’s dark, crazed portrayal of the character in 2005's “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Hugh Grant is a perfect fit as a little orange Oompa-Loompa, embodying the character’s haughty, judgmental demeanor while still being funny. “Mr. Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson is a scene-stealer toward the end as a chocoholic priest who is also a member of the "chocolate cartel."

Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (Matt Kennedy) Cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (Matt Kennedy)

Chung Chung-hoon, 54, the first Korean cinematographer to actively work in Hollywood helped create the film. He’s worked on major Hollywood projects like “Last Night in Soho” since 2015, after having worked with director Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy,” “Lady Vengeance” and “The Handmaiden."

“I focused on making sure that the audience can concentrate on this fantasy-like story, so it was important that a film does not lose its sense of reality, even if it is a fantasy film,” Chung told The Korea Herald in a video call on Jan. 23.

“’Wonka’ did not just have to be beautiful, it had to be warm. I tried my best by using various but appropriate colors and lighting so that they can go well with the story,” he added, saying that he and director Paul King talked about using traditional wire action instead of visual effects to maximize the realism.

“Working with Timothee was great, no wonder why is called a superstar. A very hard-working man who does not act like a superstar,” he added.

“Wonka” opens in Korean theaters on Wednesday.