Haunters: Film Review

A fantasy-thriller that doesn’t take its promising concept to an exciting enough story and resolution.

Kim Min-seok’s Haunters, a paranormal thriller from Korea, has more loose strands and gaping holes than an old fishing net.

UDINE, Italy – Hauntersis a paranormal thriller from Korea about the clash between a criminal with psychic powers and the only man who can stop him. Contrary to the misleading title, the film doesn’t haunt in the manner of a psycho-horror. All it does is chase, chase and chase some more. Speed-addicts could get high on director-screenwriter Kim Min-seok’s elaborately conceived action set-ups that dart from one dangerous location to the next. However, potential for more sophisticated intrigue is crushed by Kim’s script, which has more loose strands and gaping holes than an old fishing net.

Abetted by two leads whose profiles are soaring after starring in quality productions (Gang Dong-won in Secret Reunionand Ko Soo in White Night), Haunters would be a popular pick-up for ancillary buyers specializing in Asian genre markets.

The eerie opening introduces protagonist Cho-in as a boy with a wooden leg and eyes blindfolded. Both his parents try to murder him and they suffer horrific consequences for their action. When Cho-in (Gang Dong-won) resurfaces, he has grown up into a frizzy-haired cat burglar who can hypnotize people with his psychic stare. There is one person impervious to his power — happy-go-lucky Kyu-nam (Go Soo), who happens to work at the pawnshop Cho-in tries to rob.

Although Cho-in manages to wreak havoc and escape scot free, he views Kyu-nam’s existence as a threat. Kyu-nam in turn enlists his buddies – foreign workers Bubba and Ali to fight back with low-tech DIY gizmos.

The film presents a situation where both protagonists are simultaneously the hunter and the hunted. However, the screenplay doesn’t take it beyond a three-step routine of attack, escape and chase. The action set pieces, though competently staged with dynamic timing, are confined to leaping from high places, car chases, crashes in busy traffic and two improbable subway stunts.

Even more fatal to the film’s credibility and power to engage is the glaring absence of any explanation (scientific or otherwise) to Cho-in’s physical condition (including his wooden leg) or Kyu-nam’s immunity to it. No attempt is made to invest the former with even a trace of humanity, let alone personality. Since his powers are blatantly spliced from characters in X-Men, he is as vapid as a mannequin in a central role.

It is indicative of the film’s lack of imagination that for all of Cho-in’s extraordinary powers, he just wants to make a fast buck. One expects someone this potent to aim higher, like conquering the world, not robbing pawn shops (though the latter sure requires a smaller production budget).

Doll-faced, saucer-eyed Gang masters the laser look like a malevolent elf, but there’s little else for him to do. Ko has more to work with his Average Joe role, as he at least gets to emote. The sympathetic and stereotype-free depiction of the foreign workers becomes an unexpected humane touch. Young-sook (Jeong Eun-chae), the daughter of Kyu-nam’s employer, could have played a pivotal role, but instead she drops in and out of the plot like an extra.

Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Production companies: United Pictures presents a Zip Cinema production
Cast: Gang Dong-won, Ko Soo, Jeong Eun-chae, Abu Dodd, Enes Kaya
Director- screenwriter: Kim Min-seok
Producer: Lee Eugene
Executive producer: Lee Tae Hun
Director of photography: Alex Hong
Production designer: Chun Soo-a
Music: Lee Jae-jin
Editor: Kim Sang-bum
Sales: M-Line Distribution
No rating, 114 minutes