The screenwriter behind Kim Jee-woon's The Good, The Bad and The Weird makes his directorial debut with Korean box office hit, Haunters. Haunters is a quasi-superhero flick depicting the adversarial relationship
between a powerful "psychic" and the only man impervious to his abilities. If
you think it sounds reminiscent of Unbreakable, you wouldn't be the first, although expectations like that will only lead to heartache.
It opens promisingly enough. A young child with super powers (in his
eyes) is forced by his mother to live life from behind a blindfold. Instead of the usual motherly reminders to take a sweater, she's all, "Don't forget your blindfold, dear. You wouldn't want to kill anyone on the way to school!"
It's sound advice, and he dutifully obeys. But when
the pair are attacked by the boy's abusive father, the child must save
his mother using the very powers she so desperately wants to suppress. You think she'd be grateful, but how does she repay him? She puts a bag over the poor kid's head and tries to choke him to death. It's no wonder he grows up with mommy issues.
Flash forward ten years and our psychic is a sullen piece of milquetoast making a living as a thief. He takes control of peoples' bodies, renders them
motionless, and then sneaks into their place of business and absconds
with their money. On one such excursion, he comes across a young man immune to his freakish ocular power. This does not sit well with the temperamental psychic, who kills the man's boss out of spite. From that moment on, the two are arch nemeses for life.
Haunters is a horrible title. There is nothing haunting about the
film and it has nothing to do with ghosts. The original Korean title,
Psychic, is only slightly better. The antagonist is more telekinetic
than telepathic, and the source of his power (as I might have mentioned) seems to be his eyes, not
his mind. When they are covered he is powerless, yet somehow he manages to control people outside his line of sight when his eyes are open. And although he
can manipulate people and their actions, he cannot read their thoughts. It doesn't seem very well thought out.
And why is this psychic guy such a dick? Granted, his mother tried to kill him for being "different," but why
does he have it in so bad for our hero? Because he can't control him?
The entirety of the film's conflict is built upon this and it's a pretty
flimsy foundation. I understand why our protagonist is after the psychic- he killed
his boss. But the psychic keeps telling the man, "This is your fault.
You started this," and frankly, I'm not sure why.
It's hard to believe
the same man who gave us the intricate plotting of The Good, The Bad and The Weird is responsible for this bland effort as well. I knew I was in for it when another
reviewer offered to send me his copy and forgo writing a review. When I
made a joke about him "unloading a stinker," he just replied evasively
that the movie was "fun" and already in the mail.
But lest you think I enjoy being mean, here's the part of the review where I try to say something nice. Kim Min-suk proves more than competent behind the camera, giving us a
slick looking actioner with plenty of style. Given a better script, he
may well have produced a summer spectacle worth watching. Unfortunately,
the end product is no better than the glut of Hollywood tentpoles that
drove me into the arms of the NYAFF in the first place. Generally speaking,
mainstream foreign entertainments tend to outshine their American
counterparts, such as the recently awesome Attack The Block. But in this case, that is not the case. The setup is too
tenuous and the flaws in logic too great. Without a deeper conflict to back it up, the
repetitive action of Haunters left me bored.
And don't even get me started on the ending; this review is long enough as it is. All ll I have to say about the final scene is, "Huh?" Haunters screens again on Saturday, July 9th at the Walter Reade Theater.Tickets and info HERE.