What if an ordinary guy suddenly gets superpower? South Korean film “Psychokinesis” seems to be ready to do something different with that familiar premise at first, but it only comes to spin its wheels due to its uneven mix of fantasy, comedy, and melodrama. While there are a few inspired moments to amuse me, the movie is rather unimaginative and predictable as hampered by its thin plot and rote characterization, and I found myself losing patience from time to time despite its short running time (101 minutes).
How its plain hero gets his superpower is pretty simple. When Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) goes to the fountain in a nearby mountain during one morning, something falls from the sky to a spot near the fountain, and its mysterious substance quickly seeps into the fountain and then happens to be ingested by Seok-heon when he drinks a dipper of water from the fountain. Several hours after drinking that water, his body goes through some change, and then he comes to realize that now he can move things at his will.
While never having any serious thought on how he happens to acquire such an awesome power like that, Seok-heon simply regards it as a tool for earning easy money. After mastering his power a bit more, he goes to a nightclub for being hired as a magician, and he is instantly hired after he presents his ‘magic’ to the manager of the nightclub.
Meanwhile, the movie also focuses on his estranged daughter Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung), who is not so happy to see her father again because she still remembers well when he left his family due to his debt problem. She and her mother worked hard together since he left them, and things went well for a while as their fried chicken shop became successful as shown from the opening scene of the movie, but then they and other small business people in their neighborhood get threatened by a big company which is about to redevelop the area. As she and other small business people protest against the company for not being paid enough for their relocation, the company hires a bunch of goons in response, and Roo-mi’s mother happens to be killed when those thugs attack the fried chicken house at one night.
While feeling guilty about this tragedy and willing to help his daughter, Seok-heon is not so eager to get involved in what is going on around his daughter and her neighbors, but, of course, he comes to demonstrate his power in front of them when those thugs come again, and that is just the beginning of what he is going to do for protecting them. At one point, he gathers many small and big objects together for making a barricade for them, and that certainly impresses everyone including Jeong-hyeon (Park Jung-min), a young lawyer who has been trying to help Roo-mi and her neighbors and, yes, has also had some feelings toward Roo-mi.
Now this looks like a promising setup for whatever may follow next, but the screenplay by director Yeon Sang-ho fails to fully develop the potentials inside its story. While Seok-heon is not a very interesting character to watch, there is not enough fun or interest in how he becomes more and more powerful along the plot, and his relationship with his daughter is conventional and clichéd to say the least. Yes, this is another typical story of a lousy father proving himself and his love to his daughter, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that he eventually wins her trust and affection back.
The movie later tries to be more serious as pushing its characters into an obligatory climax part, but it does not have enough dramatic weight to hold our attention, and it is also superficial in handling notable social issues in the story. The climax part is apparently inspired by Yongsan Tragedy, a real-life incident which happened in Seoul in 2009, and there is certainly some emotional impact to be felt by me and other South Korean audiences, but everything in that part is so conveniently resolved in the end that we are only left with a hollow impression during its overlong closing scene.
As stuck with their underdeveloped characters, the main performers of the movie are mostly wasted. As shown from his breakthrough supporting turns in “War of the Arrows” (2011) and “The Front Line” (2011), Ryu Seung-ryong can be as charismatic as required, but even his adequate performance here in this film cannot compensate for his bland hero. In case of Shim Eun-kyung, she tries to bring some pluck to her character, but she is frequently limited by her thankless role, and so is Park Jung-min, a good actor who drew my attention for the first time via his solid supporting turn in “Bleak Night” (2010).
The best performance in the movie comes from Jung Yu-mi, a wonderful actress who has been mainly known for her charming performance in Hong Sang-soo’s “Oki’s Movie” (2010) and “Our Sunhi” (2013). As the main villain of the story, Jung delightfully chews her several scenes in the film, and she is especially fun when her character cheerfully shows a certain supporting character how ruthless she can be.
Before making a successful transition to feature film via zombie thriller movie “Train to Busan” (2016), Yeon impressed me and other South Korean audiences with “King of Pigs” (2011) and “The Fake” (2013), two very disturbing animation feature films which cynically and chillingly show the dark, despairing sides of the South Korean society. Besides lacking edges compared to these two gloomy but striking works, “Psychokinesis” is less entertaining compared to “Train to Busan” in terms of story and characters, and its good things including Jung’s juicy villain performance only remind me of how it could be better. I am mildly disappointed, but, folks, I don’t think I will remember it well a few weeks later.