“Parallel Life” director Kwon Ho Young returns with another paranormal-themed thriller in “The Gifted Hands”, which as its alternate (and considerably sillier) title “Psycho-metry” suggests, focuses on the ability to experience the memories of people or objects through physical contact. Kwon uses this for a twist on the theme of child kidnapping and murders, which seems to have been very popular in Korean cinema of late, with a cop and psychic reluctantly teaming up to catch a particularly vile killer.
The cop in question is detective Choon, played by actor Kim Kang Woo (“The Taste of Money”), a down on his luck fellow whose career is going nowhere, who finds himself in trouble with his superiors after getting involved in a shady pyramid scheme. Hoping to redeem himself by joining the task force investigating a string of child kidnappings, he comes across a strange piece of graffiti which seems to depict one of the crimes. When the latest missing girl is found dead, he tracks down the artist, a strange young man called Jun (popular television actor Kim Bum, who starred in the likes of “Boys over Flowers” and “That Winter”), who claims to have the gift of psychometry, and to have drawn the scene from a vision. Though initially dubious, after another child is snatched Choon pushes the reclusive Jun to help him track down the murderer.
“The Gifted Hands” is a bit of a departure from “Parallel Life” in that it’s much more of a straightforward genre film with supernatural trappings, with less in the way of philosophical underpinnings. Thankfully, though less thought-provoking and atmospheric, it’s at the same time more entertaining, Kwon Ho Young doing a great job of adapting his style to fast moving thrills, balancing the darkness of the subject matter with lively genre fun. Though the plot itself and the psychometry theme aren’t really anything new, it nevertheless feels fresh here, mainly since Kwon makes sure that there’s always something going on, with plenty of twists and turns.
The film never wastes time getting caught up with too many explanations or subplots, either with regards to Jun and his powers or the killer, being more concerned with setting things in motion and allowing the viewer to enjoy the consequences and the growing tension. The action scenes and set pieces are all well-handled, the film having enough of a hard and violent edge to give an appropriate level of grittiness, though without getting too nasty. As a result, it’s a more successful mixing of thriller, serial killer and supernatural themes than other films have been, benefitting from a lack of fuss or pretension.
With the plot itself essentially being fairly predictable, what really makes the film work is its level of characterisation, with both Choon and Jun being well written and fleshed out protagonists and partners. Though Choon might sound like a fairly straightforward rogue cop type, there’s thankfully more to him than that, and while he’s not always the most sympathetic of people, it’s always clear that his many flaws and tendency for incompetence mask an essentially decent desire to do good. Jun is similarly an intriguing figure, and one of the most effective aspects of the film is that it highlights from early on that his power is incredibly painful and draining for him to use, both physically and psychologically, which gives the scenes of psychometry and some of his later choices considerable impact. Although the two men are both victims of childhood trauma, the film never dwells too much on the resultant angst, and instead uses it as a basis for them bonding. Both Kim Kang Woo and Kim Bum are on good form, and there’s a genuine spark between the two that helps to give the film a solid emotional grounding, and involves the viewer in the story to a surprising degree, making the action scenes and the suspenseful final act all the more gripping.
Though this doesn’t exactly give “The Gifted Hands” much originality, it certainly provides an injection of heart and soul, something missing from much modern genre cinema, and this lifts it several notches. Kwon Ho Young is clearly a talented director worth keeping an eye on, and there’s plenty here for enjoy, especially for viewers looking for an entertaining bit of genre mixing.
Kwon Ho-Jung (director) / Kwon Ho-Jung (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Beom … Kim Joon
Esom … Kim Seung-Ki
Kang-woo Kim … Detective Yang Choon-dong
Young-hwa Seo … Joon’s mother
Park Seung-Woong … Chul-Hyun