Psychic (초능력자)

Posted by sean On December - 11 - 2010


“We should never have met,” Cho-in tells a bloodied Gyu-nam after putting him through hell.

Picture yourself with the power to control people just by looking at them. Now picture yourself meeting the only person you can’t control and going bat-shit insane over it. Choneung-Ryukja (Psychic, or sometimes as Haunters) is a Korean film about a battle between two men that delivers a psychological thrill-ride that eventually wanes by trying too hard to be an action movie.

The film focuses on Cho-in, who has the ability to control people with his gaze, and Gyu-Nam, an honest man who’s the foil to Cho-in’s world of control. Gyu-nam is the obvious protagonist while the former is the antagonist, but what the film does is paint each character with shades of gray. Cho-in is introduced as a child suffering from a prosthetic leg and an abusive father, and after his mother tries to kill him to spare him from his “curse,” he lives on his own, surviving off money he steals from small shops. This opens with a sympathetic view of his character that quickly gets overwhelmed by his willingness to kill anyone who gets in his way. This leads to his confrontation and subsequent fight with Gyu-nam when he tries to rob the pawn shop he works in, resulting in the death of his boss. What follows is a cat-and-mouse chase between the two as Gyu-nam seeks revenge, but as noble as his intentions are, the film constantly questions whether or not he should continue his pursuit. As one of his friends says in the film, it’s “[not so much] about fighting the man but the world the man controls,” and the more he fights it, the more people get hurt. Cho-in repeatedly blames the lives he takes on Gyu-nam, and as the movie progresses, there comes a point where you feel that there’s a bit of truth in his claims.

The battle against Cho-in’s power also creates some great tension. Whenever Gyu-nam takes a step forward in defeating the psychic, he’s suddenly hurled three steps back either through the disbelief of the police or through the risking of another life, but this match isn’t completely one-sided. The further they push each other, the harder Cho-in forces the world to do his bidding at the cost of his self-control. The more people he manipulates, the less mentally stable he becomes as he starts robbing large banks with security cameras and killing law enforcements. This back-and-forth exchange should keep you on the edge during the entire movie, but where the film falters is in maintaining its stance as a thriller. Instead, the suspense breaks in a few parts in the first two acts through the goofiness of Gyu-nam’s foreign friends, but while that serves as forgivable comic-relief, it’s the final act that conflicts with what the film set out to be. It switches from psychological to action-based in a shoot-out and a chase between a luxury car and a rusty van suped-up with NOS. The final confrontation afterwards returns to the mindgames, but the out-of-place epilogue nearly cuts its foundation off at its knees by forcing it into a whole different genre altogether.

So far, there are no plans to release this abroad, but hopefully that will change down the road. Psychic has a great concept with a good execution that’s undermined by how indecisive the film ends up being. In our three liquor rating of One Bourbon, one liquor, and one beer, Psychic is a glass of rice liquor watered-down by the lack of direction in the third act and a poor ending.

-Sean

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