Mar 1, 2011
More prominently referred to as Psychic, I've decided to settle for the more inventive title, Haunters, for South Korea's latest superhero opus starring Secret Reunion's Kang Dong-wo. Applying directly, the Unbreakable mantra, Haunters is the modern day fable of a dangerous psychic and the "simple" man blessed with immunity to his terrifying power. Haunters does indeed hold the torch of "grittiness" in favor of a nontraditional, now traditional, comic book-esque film. The result is something wildly inventive but still flawed beyond all control. I personally blame the inclusion of multiculturalism to Kim Min-suk's debut feature, fresh off co-writing the epic western The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Bubba and Al are the lead character's (morally grounded) best and only friends. It seems possible that Kim Min-suk has taken inspiration from Mathieu Kassovitz's politically charged La Haine as they share the inclusion of a Tracy Morgan lookalike and an Arab. Normally this sort of cultural interruption upon cinema wouldn't bother me but it is frequently visited upon in such a joking manner that it becomes irritating. Their existence is nothing but to broaden the appeal of what could be Korea's answer to Unbreakable; although different in creation, still retains a similar texture.
The film opens with the subtle brooding of a boy with bandages over his eyes being escorted down the street. The hesitation permeates through the sweat dripping down his mothers face as she catches her son in the act of removing the bandages. She explains to him woefully that they aren't to be removed for he hasn't healed yet. Soon after, the abusive boyfriend of his mother returns home and in an aggressive stupor, beats the woman senseless. The boy, driven to rage by his mothers screams, removes the bandages and walks towards the male, fists clenched. The man drops his guard and slowly backs up, mimicking the steps taken by the child. Walking into the middle of a busy street, the man then grabs his own head and twists his neck 180 degrees, obviously killing himself. This backdrop sets the tone quite fittingly for Haunters as I was unsure if what the child committed was considered an evil deed. You'd find it hard for me to lie in regards to rooting for the fate of this womanizer. His form was tasteless and tact. The boyfriend obviously needed proper instructing on how to tastefully hit a woman to release that forbidden carnal geyser dormant in every woman. Following this scene is the introduction to the heroic figure of the story. Im Gyoo-nam is an introverted junkyard worker who slacks about with his two friends, the aforementioned Bubba and Al. After getting comically bulldozed by a speeding car, Im is found unemployed and motivated, leading to him getting a job at a pawn shop run by The Host's Byeon Hee-bong.
This leads up to the pivotal reunion of the two, who, by all reason, shouldn't have met and this is even repeated in the film's tagline. These opposing spirits shouldn't have met but for some twisted reason, did. This recalls echoes of Shyamalan's Unbreakable, undoubtedly one of the greatest superhero films of its time. Whereas Unbreakable had its roots firmly planted in comic books and the chaotic side's obsession with them, Haunters does the opposite and exists in a universe that such deploring titles as superheroes are nonexistent. Something is amok, that's for sure, but our characters never admit it especially with pop culture twinkling in their eyes. Another aspect I favored about Haunters is the lead character who is referred to throughout as Representative Im. The man becomes a magnet for extreme and sadistic pain. The situations in which he is grievously harmed are somewhat shocking in a sense, even for the jaded viewers. Haunters is a classic case of banality overcoming the extraordinary. Yet, Representative Im isn't exactly normal. No, Haunters houses a secret from itself. After initially getting wrecked by the car, Im saws his cast off later in the day. No wound, a minor limp, but that's the only identifying mark of a once injury. This is repeated over and over as Im is shattered beyond belief but recovers with incredible speed. Haunters fails to reveal that our "average cho" is, in fact, super in his own regard. Color me surprised when Haunters capped the experience of a Western-influenced action/thriller with a weighted ending, a definite tailspin from the playfully dark habitat into stranger waters.
Haunters is not a sigh of relief from the barrage of always-excellent Korean detective thrillers but instead a worthy placeholder. It doesn't break ground with a new, conspiring definition of entertainment but Haunters is an excellent way to waste 2 hours. Simply from the disregard of human life as arranged by our psychotic psychic with mommy issues is Haunters pushed into a nihilistic atmosphere all its own. Watching bodies drop in unison in the lobby of a sterile apartment complex is jarring enough without the light-hearted buddy adventure hidden in the very core of this film. Like I said, Haunters is no award winner but a grab at attention with enough eye candy to satiate even the hardest Western film snob. Kang Dong-wo's performance is enough to warrant a view for any fan of South Korean film. Consider me thoughtful and open to the remainder of Kim Min-suk's career, however bedridden it may end up with the inflation of Korean crime dramas. As enjoyable as Haunters might be, I still cannot shake the inclusion of the two radically racial characters in an otherwise chameleon Korean film. What a waste of cultural exclusivity.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:21 PM
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