Psychokinesis movie review: Suffers from simplistic treatment that's come to define superhero genre

Anupam Kant Verma

Apr 29, 2018 13:24:43 IST


Psychokinesis is the latest film by Yeon Sang-Ho, director of the breakout Korean hit from 2016, Train to Busan. A zombie horror action thriller to rival the very best in the genre, Train to Busan lit up the box office and gathered worldwide critical acclaim. It announced Sang-Ho on the international stage as perhaps the next Korean auteurial force to be reckoned with. This should suffice to explain the excitement it generated in this reviewer when he sat down to watch Psychokinesis  and the grave disappointment he experienced while viewing an otherwise standard superhero fantasy film.

Right from the plot to the characters, the writing and the performances, Psychokinesis suffers from the simplistic treatment that has come to define the superhero genre. Despite Ryu Seung-ryong’s best efforts, his protagonist Mr Shin cannot survive the bluntness and sheer ordinariness of the writing. A down and out loser who works a security job, the likable and goofy Shin miraculously acquires superhuman powers. His estranged wife’s sudden death during a night raid by construction company goons out to forcibly acquire her neighbourhood’s land brings him in contact with his daughter. Hereon, the story runs along predictable lines with Shin using his newfound powers to defend the rights of the citizens and making amends with and drawing closer to his daughter.

Psychokinesis movie review: Suffers from simplistic treatment thats come to define superhero genre

Still from Psychokinesis

The lack of any directorial imagination that could have given a gritty turn — so characteristic of the new Korean cinema — to a narrative that seems to have run its course even in Hollywood, stands out as Psychokinesis’ most glaring flaw. Sang-Ho piles on comedy, drama, fantasy and action to make up for the banality of the story. However, for a film that is based upon a real incident that took place in Seoul in 2009, his directorial decisions fall flat on their face. More crucially, the atonality resulting from this clash of genres ensures that the narrative never really rises from the normative nature of the plot. This turns Psychokinesis into a film utterly clueless about its ambition, if any, and simply boring beyond a point.

The great strength of Train to Busan lay in the earnestness with which its characters were delineated. Coupled with its fabulous action set pieces — glaringly absent in Psychokinesis — and the carefully orchestrated tension, Busan steamrolled into our consciousness with a fury reserved for the best action films. Granted, the characters in both films aren’t entirely unique, their motivations not quite novel. But the gulf that separates the effect they have upon us is primarily down to the sincerity with which they act on the screen. Noticeably, Psychokinesis seems to suffer from a rushed narrative, in part due to the confused dynamics between characters that the writer tries to resolve inorganically. Busan, on the other hand, moves at a swifter pace without any missteps owing to clarity about the characters’ growth in the narrative.

Strangely, for a film that sets out to be comic in parts, there is a complete absence of laughs. The action sequences seem too long and lazily executed, with little or no imagination to sustain the viewer’s interest. They are ill served by Sang-Ho’s failure to create genuine tension on the screen. So when the action set pieces do arrive, we are too distracted to form any emotional engagement with the characters who risk their lives in those scenes. There is an ever widening gulf between the evolution of the character and the narrative, which comes apart at the seams by the time the ending comes around.

The arrival of a brash, new character in the form of a merciless company executive offers a welcome change around the hour mark. Her demeanour and charisma momentarily lifts the film, providing a more than worthy antagonist for our hero’s powers. But her departure, which is as sudden as her arrival, sounds the mournful death knell of imagination for the film.

One may argue that Sang-Ho tries to direct the Korean superhero film towards the very real problems that plague people. He takes potshots at the sheer insensitivity of the media and the powerful few that decide the fate of nations. But his writing fails to rise above the escapism that the superhero film engenders due to its fundamental structure. Therefore, its real life basis appears as a facile exercise that never quite honours the sacrifices ordinary people make while standing up to injustice. This, more than anything else, makes Psychokinesis a perfectly ordinary film from a filmmaker who is capable of a lot more than that.

Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 13:24:43 IST