The director of Train to Busan tackles another big blockbuster genre in his take on superhero films.
“Look at what’s going on now. He’s become our hero.”
“My dad is not a hero.”
I really enjoyed 2016’s zombie survival Train to Busan. I thought that director Yeon Sang-ho was able to take what was once a tired and overplayed genre and bring some new (un)life to it. The result was a fresh and highly enjoyable action horror which rarely felt like a retread of previous pictures. So when I found out that this year’s Psychokinesis was by the same man, my interest was naturally piqued.
Psychokinesis stars Shim Eun-kyung as Shin Roo-mi who owns a successful fried chicken restaurant which she runs with her mother (Kim Yeong-seon). However, the market area she works in is under threat of demolition by a mob-owned construction company and during a violent confrontation with the builders, her mother is knocked around and killed. Meanwhile, Roo-mi’s estranged father Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong), a security guard at a bank, drinks water tainted by a meteor and begins to gain telekinetic powers.
The two meet at the mother’s funeral, and after learning of Roo-mi and her fellow shopkeers’ plight, Seok-heon decides to stay and use his powers to help out. After a fight with some of the construction workers, where Seok-heon uses his powers to take out some thugs, he becomes something of a hero, much to Roo-mi’s concern. As the scale of Seok-heon’s power escalates, so does the conflict between the shopowners and the mob (Kim Min-jae and Jung Yu-mi as President Min and Director Hong, respectively).
Once again written as well as directed by Yeon, Psychokinesis goes against the grain of the typical superhero origin story by giving us something resembling Hancock, but that does a lot more with the premise. Seok-heon is an interesting character because he’s barely even the main character of his own movie. By doing so, the film acknowledges that he’s just some guy, and barely anything special. The story shifts to “real” heroes like Roo-mi and her lawyer love-interest Kim (Park Jung-min) constantly, and reminds us that Seok-heon’s actions, while increasingly heroic in a blockbuster way, aren’t the only way to deal with crime and corruption.
Psychokinesis works because it doesn’t really try to be a big superhero film. Like Unbreakable before it, it instead deals with the guy behind the superpowers and the effect this has with his family and his personal life. It’s only at the very end – once he’s worked out all his issues – that he can finally be allowed to go full Superman, and that makes it so much more interesting and satisfying. Anyone can drink tainted spring water and get super powers, but Seok-heon saw an opportunity to fix his broken life, mend the relationship with his daughter, and then save the day. Psychokinesis isn’t the best superhero film by a huge margin, but it’s one of the most human.
Despite being loaded with good performances, there are two that really stood out to me: Shim Eun-kyung’s Roo-mi and Jung Yu-mi as the crime lord Hong. Both actresses approach their characters completely differently, and where Shim offers a character whose strengths and vulnerabilities make her endearing and incredibly easy to root for, Jung goes nuts with hers. Director Hong is a fascinatingly fun character to watch, and Jung Yu-mi is clearly having a blast in the role, despite the very few minutes of screen time she has. Her interactions with President Min are some of the most enjoyable.
In an era swamped by superhero stories, Psychokinesis isn’t the most refreshing take on the genre, and perhaps might have worked even better in a time when there aren’t a dozen films like it currently out. But at least it’s enough of its own thing to stand apart from the onslaught of comic book films this year. The drama with Seok-heon attempting (somewhat a little too assertively sometimes) to become a more active father is engaging, and the action near the end is pretty great. There’s enough here to make it worth a watch, though, and if you’re in the mood for some decent action, a simple and effective story and some pretty questionable CGI, you’re definitely getting more than your fill here.
Verdict: By focusing less on heroics and more on its human side, Psychokinesis manages to stand out and find its place among the ever-growing pantheon of superhero films.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Hero stuff: 7/10
Pro-tip: Don’t steal all the coffee at once.
Title: What is psychokinesis? You know, compared to regular ol’ telekinesis?
Also known as: 염력 (Yeom-lyeok)
Writer: Yeon Sang-ho
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Ryu Seung-ryong – Shin Seok-heon
Shim Eun-kyung – Shin Roo-mi
Go Na-hee – Roo-mi (young)
Park Jung-min – Kim Jung-hyun
Kim Min-jae – President Min
Jung Yu-mi – Director Hong
Yoo Seung-mok – Mr. Kim
Lee Jeong-eun – Mr. Kim’s wife
Kim Yeong-seon – Roo-mi’s mom
Ye Soo-jung – Mr. Jeong’s sister
Tae Hang-ho – President Min’s subordinate