Psychokinesis movie review: Netflix’s phenomenal antidote to Avengers Infinity War
Director - Yeon Sang-ho
Cast - Ryu Seong-ryong, Shim Eun-kyeung
Rating - 3.5/5
It used to be that you made a well-received small movie that did excellent business and sooner or later, a big studio would beckon you over. They’d offer you a fine selection of intellectual properties they own, and ask you if you were interested in any of them. Batman? No? There’s an Akira remake just waiting for someone to make it. Not your thing? No worries. How about you make that passion project you’ve been on about first. You’re really passionate about that, aren’t you? We can do Akira after that. Sounds good? Deal!
Then they’d wave a couple of hundred million dollars in front of you and before you know it, you’re the new Christopher Nolan or Ryan Coogler. Well, that’s going to change. Psychokinesis might be one of the earliest examples of a filmmaker breaking out with a hit movie - in this case, the phenomenal Train to Busan - and instead of moving on to a Marvel character, being snagged by Netflix instead.
It makes sense. Netflix is, and you’d better believe it, as big a deal as any major movie studio - perhaps with the exception of Disney. The streaming service has, despite the frankly annoying complaints about their prolific output and controversial distribution model, always been a champion of cinema. Only last year, they gave the great Bong Joon-ho money no one else would to make Okja, one of the best films of 2017. Psychokinesis, directed by Bong’s compatriot, Yeon Sang-ho, might not be as magnificent as that modern fairytale, but it’s a movie made with just as much energy and passion as his previous film, the breakout genre hit of 2016, Train to Busan.
What that movie was to zombie cinema, Psychokinesis is to superhero films. It isn’t a subversion like Kick-Ass or Suicide Squad - even though that’s the popular (and edgy) direction to take these days - but it’s a proper celebration of a genre that has, despite the croaks of cinema purists, managed to sustain its popularity for over a decade.
The closest comparison I can think of is the 2012 found footage superhero movie, Chronicle - which, incidentally, is a great example of that Hollywood trope I was referring to before. After its surprising success, Josh Trank was immediately hired to direct the Fantastic Four reboot - which ended up being one of the most notorious debacles in recent memory.
Yeon Sang-ho doesn’t have to worry about that. Psychokinesis is more like Chronicle - in both its DIY aesthetic and unexpectedly personal stakes - than the bloated, CGI-laden mess that was Fantastic Four. And like Train to Busan, it’s a story about fathers and daughters, and a story about class.
The daughter in question is Ru-mi. She’s young, driven, and self-sufficient, having been abandoned by her father 10 years ago. She runs a popular fried chicken restaurant in a shopping arcade with the help of her mother. One night, the local mob - the hired muscle of a corrupt real estate company - knocks down her restaurant, the first in a sweeping drive to make room for a large shopping mall. Ru-mi struggles to fend off the goons, who manhandle her as they knock the walls of her restaurant down. In the ensuing tussle, Ru-mi’s mother falls and bangs her head against the pavement. Just as Ru-mi’s neighbours - and fellow small business owners - arrive, her mother dies in her arms.
The next day, she calls her father, whom she hasn’t seen in a decade. Mr Shin has been working as a security guard at a bank, living alone and engaging in petty theft to keep himself occupied. With an upset stomach caused by contaminated spring water, and more embarrassment than he can hide, he goes to the funeral. And in that uncomfortable reunion, neither father nor daughter knows that Mr Shin’s spring water has - in addition to diarrhoea - given him telekinetic powers.
But his powers can’t stay hidden forever, and this is where Yeon does what Trank did in Chronicle and M Night Shyamalan did in Unbreakable - he gives Mr Shin several scenes in which he fools around with his powers, scaring unsuspecting onlookers and even trying out for a magician’s gig.
But soon, as every true hero must, he recognises the responsibility that comes with these powers, and what better way to use them for good than to stop the mob after his daughter’s property.
Psychokinesis is such a refreshing change of pace from the cosmic scale of last week’s Avengers: Infinity War - it’s basically set on one street, with the notable exception of a shockingly refined action sequence towards the end. And like Infinity War, beneath its flashy exterior, it too is a film about a parent-child relationship.
It’s part redemption tale, part superhero origin story and especially in that showdown at the end, part Western. It’s another promising movie by Yeon Sang-ho, who has established himself as one of the most exciting voices to emerge out of this Golden Age of Korean cinema.