“Haunters” offers a twist on the usual superhero tale, with Korean stars Kang Dong Won (“Secret Reunion”) and Ko Su (“White Night”) as two troubled men blessed with special powers facing off against each other in a deadly battle. The film marks the debut of Kim Min Suk, who previously scripted and worked as an assistant on director Kim Jee Woon’s wonderful kimchi Western “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”. Combining action, drama and a thoughtful exploration of what can turn a man into a monster, the film was a major commercial hit in Korea, holding onto the top box office spot for an impressive two weeks.
The film begins following Cho (Kang Dong Won, in his last film role before carrying out his army service), a young one legged man, twisted by a childhood of abuse, his parents having tried to kill him due to his having odd and terrifying mind control powers. Barely considering himself human, Cho keeps away from any kind of social contact, living by manipulating others with his psychic abilities. His quiet life comes crashing down when his path crosses with Kyu Nam (Ko Su), a simple though kind hearted man working in a pawn shop he tries to rob, who for some reason seems unaffected by his powers. After the failed heist results in the gruesome death of Kyu Nam’s father figure pawn shop owner (Byun Hee Bong, also in thriller “The Game”), he sets about bringing Cho down and making him pay for his crimes.
“Haunters” is actually very different to most other films with similar sounding plots dealing with super powers, with Kim Min Suk taking an approach which is at once more grounded and more interesting. Ultimately, the film is driven by a sense of tragedy, with Cho never becoming a straightforward villain, despite the increasing horror of his actions, with his dreadful upbringing never being forgotten, or the fact that he himself never wanted any of the escalating conflict to happen in the first place. Indeed, whilst he does become more evil as the film goes on, it is clearly suggested that this is due to his being hounded by Kyu Nam and forced into desperate decisions. Though Kyu Nam himself is a driven and interesting figure, having no idea of his own powers, Cho is certainly the more unconventional of the two, and to a large extent the lingering impressions of the film are of his sad, lonely existence.
The plot is all the more gripping for the fact that it doesn’t revolve around any grand scheme or plan, simply following two extraordinary men whose lives collide in violent and tragic, though accidental fashion. Things get out of control very quickly, with a great deal of collateral damage, and the film progresses at a fast pace and in unpredictable fashion, with Kim only too happy to bump off sympathetic members of the supporting cast. This makes for a compelling mixture of harshness and fun, with plenty of action set pieces along the way to keep the pulse racing. Despite its premise, the film isn’t overly dependent on special effects or visual trickery, with Cho’s mind control mainly resulting in his eyes turning white and people doing his bidding like creepily silent, shuffling zombies. Kim makes the very most of this, and the film has some excellent scenes of Kyu Nam being set upon by huge crowds of unfortunate puppets, including one particularly great sequence in the subway. Things do quite frequently get violent and bloody, and this gives the film an all important adult edge, further grounding it in the cruelty of the real world.
“Haunters” is a hugely entertaining take on the usual superhero origin story, with an excellent and atypical script, intriguing characters and dynamic action. One of the rare cases of such films when a sequel would be very welcome indeed, it sees director Kim Min Suk injecting new life into the Hollywood formula and is very worthy of its box office success.
Kim Min-suk (director) / Kim Min-suk (screenplay)
CAST: Kang Dong-won