a review by Chris Hayes-Kossmann
Directed by Kim Min-suk, cinematography by Alex Hong
Distributed by Madman
I love Korean cinema. Their stories are often incomprehensible, their characters sometimes completely unsympathetic, but damn, do they know how to create a spectacle. Oldboy, Shiri, and now Haunters – what’s in the water over there that brings out such dark storylines and such attention to detail? Regardless of whether you enjoy the narrative (I did) or sympathise with the two superpowered main characters (kinda), you’ll leave Haunters feeling like you’ve just been slapped across the face. It’s supercharged, non-stop, sci-fi horror action.
How best to sum it up? Imagine two of the X-Men cast who never got discovered by Doctor Xavier. Instead of becoming heroes (or master villains), they simply carve out their own existence in an otherwise uncaring world – Cho-in uses his mind-controlling ability to become a petty thief, while Kyu-nam earns his crust in an auto-repair shop, consistently surprised at how his injuries always heal so miraculously.
Chance throws Cho-in and Kyu-nam against each other – when Cho-in tries to rob Kyu-nam’s shop, Kyu’s boss ends up dead, and Kyu realises he’s met the embodiment of absolute moral depravity. Kyu, and Kyu alone, is immune to Cho’s mind controlling powers. Thus, he must be the one to stop him.
So begins a superpowered action epic, with Cho throwing everything he can at the near-unstoppable Kyu – which is usually other innocent people. Yep, Cho has no sympathy for bystanders, and frequently uses his mind-control as a weapon of mass destruction.
Kudos to the director, Min-suk Kim, for always keeping this aspect of the film truly horrifying. In a lesser director’s hands, scenes of whole crowds hurling themselves, lemming-like, to their deaths, might become comical. It isn’t. It’s truly disturbing, and no amount of comic relief or high-paced car chase can distract from the rising bodycount. Cho is a truly riveting villain, even if his motives are never really made clear – he makes Magneto and Mr. Glass seem childish by comparison.
When Haunters finished, I felt numb from sensory overload. As I said before, the story isn’t particularly deep. There are no revelations as to the origins of Cho-in’s or Kyu-nam’s powers. Just the forces of darkness clashing with a bumbling, good natured force of light, and all the action and blood that entails.
It won’t change your life, but Haunters is solid as either a superhero film or a dark urban fantasy, and absolutely worth your time.
© 2010 United Pictures & ZIP CINEMA
Originally published in Dark Matter issue 6, November 2011. This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.