Cho-neung-ryeok-ja [Haunters] (2010)

Let’s get this straight right now: the title of this film does not fit it at all. I have to wonder whether this is because its Korean title does not translate well.

But one thing is clear: there are no ghosts on display here.

Instead, we have a young man with a remarkable gift, who can make people do what he wants when he stares at them. He uses this gift to live a strange, unfettered life, where people just give him everything he wants.

Until the day when his attempted robbery of a pawn broker’s shop goes wrong when the new employee proves immune to his powers.

For most of the movie, the focus is on that young man, Kyu-Nam, who loses his job at a junkyard when he gets hit by a car and is on his first day of his new job when his boss is killed in the failed robbery.

Unfortunately, the mysterious robber is so disturbed that there is someone he can’t control that he won’t rest until he kills Kyu-Nam.

Meanwhile, Kyu-Nam and his friends are trying to find the stranger and bring him to justice. Before long this escalates into a full scale war. We’ve seen a lot of warring telepath films over the years, from movies like The Power, The Fury, Scanners and Firestarter, to more recent efforts like Push, Pyrokinesis, and The Mind’s Eye, but the battles here are some of the most outrageous I’ve seen, but not because of the usual things preferred by these sorts of films, like throbbing, bulging veins and big, effects-driven battles. Instead, the villain surrounds himself with armies of innocent victims, threatens to cause mass suicides, or sends dozens of cars straight into an intersection at Kyu-Nam.

What is even more remarkable is that, for most of the film, the only power the hero demonstrates is his resistance to being manipulated. It is only towards the end that we begin to see that they might be more extensive..

This is, by turns, a horror story, a mystery, a buddy comedy, and perhaps even a superhero movie, a mix of elements which seems to work quite well.

What really sticks with me is the personality of the villain: his solipsistic selfishness and total isolation from the world he lives off. It’s as if he hardly has any personality at all, simply desires. He sincerely believes that the world owes him whatever he wants because of his wretched childhood, and has no concern for those he uses. In one of the movie’s most unexpected moments, he marches a group of inconvenient police officers into an open manhole without the slightest hesitation.

There is, in fact, only one moment when he hesitates, one moment where he leaves someone he clearly wants dead alive.

But it is a close thing.

I like this one. The Koreans have been making a lot of interesting films lately. Many of them have found unique takes on familiar genre territory. Haunters takes us to places we’ve been before and yet it doesn’t seem all that familiar.

That is always welcome.

Particularly when we are talking about a film as solid and well-crafted as this one.

(Available for Free on Tubi)

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