Fantastic Fest ’11: Haunters – Review


Superpowered teens match will power in Korean action film

The Korean action film Haunters, despite its title, is not a ghost story. At least not in the traditional sense. The main characters, Cho-In and Kyu-Nam, have super powers but these gifts are not necessarily supernatural in origin. Instead of creepy castles or graveyards, the characters haunt their own lives at large — existing on the fringes of society until their mutual discovery of each other finally gives their lives a purpose.

Kyu-Nam is a loser but at least he’s happy. He doesn’t seem to have any real family of his own so he grasps on to those around him especially his friends, two immigrants who serve as surrogate brothers to the young man. When he is fired from his job at a scrap metal yard, where he worked with his two buddies, Kyu-Nam finds a new job as the manager of a small pawnshop. It’s there where he finds two new additions to his surrogate family — his new boss and his daughter.

Things are going well for Kyu-Nam until he meets Cho-In, a mutant who for years has been using an unexplained mental power to control people as if they were puppets. This gift allows Kyu-Nam to have anything he desires in life but it also has caused him to live as a societal ghost since he was a young boy.

If Kyu-Nam is a happy-go-lucky guy who has had a crap life tossed at him, Cho-In is a man whose shit-filled youth has warped him into a complete monster. Cho-In steals when he needs something and has no problem killing others to get his way. He’s never met a person he can’t control until the day he decides to rob the pawnshop Kyu-Nam works at. During the robbery, Kyu-Nam discovers that he is, for whatever reason, able to resist Cho-In’s influence. During an attempt to halt Cho-In’s robbery, Kyu-Nam’s boss is killed. Taking the death extremely personal, Kyu-Nam begins a quest to bring Cho-In to justice.

Haunters mixes action that is light on special effects with great character-based humor to create a fun film that will evoke comparisons to everything from Jumper (I don’t mean that as an insult, by the way) to Shaun of the Dead to the best of anime. The film takes a low-key approach to the action scenes — relying on clever editing and sound effects to achieve the impression of two men dueling it out with superpowers.

What really makes the film work, though, is the incredible chemistry between Kyu-Nam and his surrogate family. As he and his friends come up with a series of increasingly high-risk schemes to bring Cho-In to justice, the movie never looses its sense of humor or charm — even when things get dire and the film comes to a heartbreaking conclusion.

Haunters is the type of Asian action film that Hollywood salivates over. Producers will be unable to wait to get their hands on the remake rights so don’t be surprised when it is announced that Haunters is getting remade with a young cast of American heartthrobs.

The movie gives American producers a solid base to work from with a witty script that manages to elevate a mediocre story (while the movie is fun, there is nothing remarkably new introduced to the idea of two super powered teens battling that audiences haven’t already seen before). Haunters may suffer a bit from a lethargic second act and a bit of repetitive action as it shuffles towards the conclusion but ultimately the movie remains a fun, infectiously charming action film that is a perfect gateway film for film fans looking to dip their toe into Korean cinema.

Director: Min-suk Kim
Notable Cast: Choi Deok-Moon, Jeong Eun-Chae and Soo Go
Writer: Min-suk Kim