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Review: Kim Min-Suk's Haunters, starring Gang Dong-won (Fantasia 2011)

Aug. 5, 2011by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: Cho-in (Dong-wong Kang), a physically weak man, with an artificial leg-was born with the ability to control minds. Having been abused by his parents as a child, to the point that he forced his father to snap his own neck on the packed streets of Seoul 25 years ago, he’s grown into a bitter, evil man who uses his powers to steal money. Im Gyoo-nam (Soo Go) is Cho-in’s exact opposite. Physically strong, to the point of being invulnerable, and kind-hearted, he runs afoul of Cho-in after he uses his power to rob and kill Im’s kindly employer. With the help of his two best-buddies; an immigrant from Turkey, and a refuge from Ghana, Im sets out to end Cho’s reign of terror, but is unprepared for the lengths to which Cho will go to have his way.

REVIEW: HAUNTERS is like a South Korean version of UNBREAKABLE, although it’s different enough that’s I’d stop short of calling it an all-out imitation. One of the things I appreciate most about South Korean films is the fact that, no matter how outlandish the plot, the characters are nearly always portrayed in a three-dimensional, unique fashion, and HAUNTERS is no exception.

The protagonist/antagonist duo is fairly memorable here, with neither being what you’d normally get from more generic Hollywood fare. Cho-in starts off as a fairly sympathetic baddie, and one could argue that he never really goes over the edge until Im begins to meddle in his affairs, but somewhere around the mid-section, he becomes a raving lunatic in the mold of Choi-Min Sik in I SAW THE DEVIL. At one point he forces a woman to chuck her baby at a subway, and at another, he makes dozens of people jump to their death- all just to torture poor Im. It helps that physically, Don-wong Kang is an odd looking guy, with intense, other-worldly eyes that don’t need much in the way of VFX to look creepy. His physical, almost waifish build also makes him a unique counterpoint to the more macho Im.

A the hero, Soo Go is nothing short of phenomenal, with him starting the film as a wacky, happy-go-lucky Jackie Chan type, but over the course of the film, after being forced to stand-by and watch dozens of people die, he looks to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. For him, heroism is a burden, and you feel it more by watching Soo Go than you would most normal Hollywood heroes.

Another nice touch in HAUNTERS is the fact that all of the supporting players, even if they’re doing little more than bit parts, get fun little bits of business to make them memorable. Examples include the cop who preems and primps himself in front of the mirror before an interrogation, or the money-lender who’s trying to impress his sexy, sarcastic secretary. Im’s multi-cultural pals are fun too, which is unique for South Korean films, as they typically don’t feature non-Koreans in meaty roles. The action scenes are also very well-done, although they’re not over the top- with only a climatic car-chase really coming close to being what I would call a set-piece.

Probably the only thing wrong with HAUNTERS is that it takes a bit too long to really get going, and that the pace lags a bit at times. However, I still had a really good time with it, and it’s another solid example of how South Koreans can make good, mainstream entertainment, that’s not afraid to embrace rich, colorful characters, and cross into occasionally dark territory.

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