When it comes to movies, you just gotta hand it to the Koreans. Haunters, which opens in cinemas this week, is infused with the right kind of emotionally charged pathos, morbid comedy, and shades-of-grey that made it such a fascinating watch.
Also, despite it’s title, it has NOTHING to do with ghosts and horror, two things the Koreans are famous for, and is actually an urban fantasy tale.
Opening to a rain slicked street, Haunters begins with a glimpse into the childhood of Cho-In, a crippled boy with a sinister supernatural gift – the power to mesmerize and dominate people with his eyes. It’s a power he uses to kill his abusive father, and again to flee from his mother and eventually to survive in the world – a world that he feels rightly shuns him and what he is.
His unhappy circumstances are paralleled with those of Lim Kyu-Nam, best described as the idiot protagonist who, despite being hit by a bus, seems to have the resilience and survivability of a cockroach. He’s got reliable friends in the form of fellow scrap workers Al and Bubba, and when he lands a job at Utopia, a pawnshop of dubious nature, he thinks he’s set for life.
Enter Cho-In, who has managed to survive by stealing from such shops. He uses his power to freeze everyone, and is about to make good on his escape when Kyu-Nam shakes the compulsion off and confronts him, sparking a struggle that results in the death of Kyu-Nam’s boss. This becomes the catalyst for Kyu-Nam’s quest for revenge, leading to a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with rising stakes and increasing casualties.
Gang Dong-Won was exceptional as Cho-In – he fit the role as the tortured, angst-ridden villain perfectly, while Ko Soo, broad shouldered and bland faced, fit the bill as the would be hero of justice.
The script was stellar, the characterization of Cho-In and his motivations especially painted him out as less of a villain, and more of a victim of unhappy circumstance. By the end of the movie, I was rooting for him, rather than Kyu-Nam, who proved to be nothing less than a persistent disturbance with an overwrought sense of morality (and had clearly taken things a little too personally). The story was mostly serious, but there were enough light hearted moments (especially with the hero and his two stooges) in between, and at some points, there was even self-deprecating, genre bending humor.
Camera angles and visuals were beautiful. The opening was perhaps the most memorable, but there were just as many other scenes that were artfully constructed. The rain of human bodies in the apartment complex, for one, and the mass suicide of office workers in an adjacent building another. Even the final, requisite rooftop confrontation (yes, it’s always mandatory in any good modern tale) didn’t seem at all forced, and the sequence, despite it’s lack of combat, was balletic in its execution.
A definite must watch if you’re into Korean movies, especially one with an urban fantasy bent. I actually missed the Screen Singapore showcase of Paradise Kiss and May’n to catch this, and I don’t regret it one bit.