Some things to know about my review:
- My reviews are subjective and my opinions based on my own general likes and dislikes, unclouded by obsessions.
- They usually don't have major or ending spoilers, but if they do, they will come with a warning.
- If I like a movie enough to write about it, I write a lot about it. My reviews are huge.
- I don't take myself too seriously so my reviews reflect that. It's light reading. A lot of it, but light.
I have started with Kang Dong-won movies, using my newly acquired obsession for inspiration and since I like them a lot. Which is why you won't be seeing a review about "Temptation of Wolves", which was frankly god-awful.
This movie has been the most popular post in my own blog, so here it is.
"Haunters" begins by showing us how the bad guy, called Cho In (it means super-human, since we never learn his name), grew up to be the royal jerk that he is. He has the ability to control others' minds. A violent father and an unstable mother and childhood have caused him to resent people and wish for solitude. A wish which is enough to make him steaming mad when he realizes there's someone he can't control. Said someone being a poor and simple-minded good guy, called Im Kyu Nam, who has just found his dream job at a pawn shop. Complete with a nice boss who happens to have a very hot Korean-American daughter. When Cho In decides to rob the pawn shop in order to make money for survival, things go South and very fast. Kyu Nam, immune to Cho In's powers, confronts him and the pawn shop boss is killed in the process. Thus starts the big chase and confrontation between the two, which escalates as the movie progresses.
The first thing to note about "Haunters" is that it's not scary and it's not horror, despite what the trailer might lead someone to think. Well, the trailer and all the staring by Kang Dong-won. This is a movie about two very regular guys with powers. It's a confrontation between two people who just don't dig each other very much for some very obvious reasons. For those looking for a superhero movie of epic proportions, you can stop reading and forget about this movie right now. These guys aren't rich tycoons with mansions, gadgets and money like Bruce Wayne, neither are they celebrity scientists that gained powers from some accident like the Fantastic 4. Kyu Nam feels like he won the lottery for a job at a rundown pawn shop. The other is a drifter who uses his ability to steal money and survive.
Their confrontations are also nothing of superhero movie proportions. They chase each other around a neighborhood, they don't have latex suits (although that would be hot), they don't have awesome cars and don't have huge epic fights that ruin whole city blocks. At least "epic" by the Hollywood let's-blow-up-a-few-cars-and-have-huge-and-costly-sequences action standards. That said, the movie is very "big" both in spirit and budget. It's intense, the chemistry between the two actors and characters works very well and it feels like an epic fight even if very few people know it even happens. It's not a fight for the fate of the world, but the "it ain't big enough for both of us" element is very strong. It's a film about two guys having a brawl. With superpowers. Really good directing, good cast that suits the parts, nice CG that's only used where it supports the movie, good action, some humor that doesn't go over the top, fresh score and you have an all around big budget supernatural action thriller.
The Story and Characters
"Haunters" does not go very deep into the powers, their origins or even the characters that have them. Meaning, you do not get sob stories revolving around the usual "Who am I/Why do I have these powers/What is my fate/With great power comes great responsibility" themes of superhero movies. The characters, although interesting, are not developed much. Just enough for the viewer to know what they want, why and why the things that are done must be done from both sides. The story itself is also not complicated. One guy is being bad, the other one wants to stop him. The strength of this movie is in its style, type of action, atmosphere and very charismatic cast. You want to see these two have at it and you can always sense things will keep getting worse and worse. The opposing natures of the characters are also very emphasized in various ways. Cho In is alone while Kyu Nam has trusty friends and sidekicks. One is very frail and skinny while the other is healthy and strong. Brain Vs. Brawn. That said, Cho In is not some evil genius. He just has a bit more intelligence than Kyu Nam who, as cute as he may be, is also very slow and simple.
Cho In is not a hysteric villain that always yells, neither is he too much on the cool, collected and creepy side. He's cold and calm when he has things under control, but he has been spoiled by being able to control anyone he wants and not having to answer for his actions. That leads to moments of frustration and anger, which make him even more dangerous. He has been tortured by life enough to not care about people and by taking the easy way out and controlling them since childhood, he also doesn't understand them.
Kyu Nam is more stable as a person. He's a regular working man, very poor, not very educated or with high standards. He enjoys the simple little things and is just looking to get by and live his life being content. He is very kind-hearted and appreciative of people who are good to him and support him. Kyu Nam has two other abilities in addition to being immune to Cho In's powers, but I won't spoil things. He is also the very definition of a good guy in the sense that he does not aim to kill Cho In, but just wants to bring him to justice for what he did to his boss.
Ali and Boba are Kyu Nam's ex-colleagues and friends. They function more as sidekicks in the movie, Boba being the more innocent and dumb one while Ali functions as the voice of reason and brains among the three. They are both very likable characters and do their best to support Kyu Nam in this.
As nice as the movie is, it would be mighty boring without the intense atmosphere, partly created by the good chemistry between the two leads. Kang Dong-won does his staring very well, but does not overact (more than the movie demands) and makes sure to use his whole face to convey the emotions, without just relying on very wide open eyes and the effects used for them. He has also found a nice balance between the coldness and the anger Cho In exhibits. He does a good job in making the character seem very unstable, but also relentless and downright nasty. One thing he could correct, though, is his evil laugh. It wasn't strong enough and frankly, not convincing enough. I know he couldn't use his real laugh which sounds a bit like Goofy's, but he should have found a better one. Something stronger and more on the psycho side. And to make things clear. [Fangirl Rambling] This is not the first time the man has played a villain, so whoever wrote that piece of information which has infested every synopsis should get their stories checked. The man played a gold-digging, cold, cruel and insensitive man in the series "Magic" and also took part in the movie "Voice of Murderer" playing (guess who) the murderer. [Fangirl Rambling End]
This is the first time I've seen Ko Soo in anything, but I think he was very good for the part. Kyu Nam is not just about chasing and yelling and flexing his neck veins. As nice as all those are. Ko Soo also had to create a character the viewer likes and wants to support, despite his flaws. He makes Kyu Nam's simple-mindedness likable and the character "cute" enough for the viewer to want his well-being. He also keeps the character very down to Earth so that he doesn't seem like the heroic good guy too much. Kyu Nam tries to do the right thing, but he's not some knight in shining armor. He's not supposed to be the charming hero, but an unlikely one and although Ko Soo is a nice-looking guy, he doesn't act like one, which is good.
The chemistry between these guys is also lovely. Their looks help in the sense that one is tall, lanky and pale while the other is darker, shorter, but very bulky and toned. However, it's the characters and actors' portrayal of them that makes them click. Or rather, collide in a massive testosterone fight of the "Who has the biggest... power and endurance" variety.
Although the story does not go too deep into motives and reasoning, both actors do the best they can with it.
One thing worth mentioning here is the two foreign actors cast in this. Both Abu Dod and Enes Kaya are very good. If you are familiar with Asian cinema, you will have noticed that most parts where a non-Asian is required, they seem to cast people off the street. At least the quality of the acting would lead you to think so. Better performances can be seen by Goon #5 in the most ridiculous low-budget Hollywood movie. As many Asian works are based on novels, manga, manhwa and such, casting foreigners cannot always be avoided and the quality and variety in such people is low in Asia. However, knowing this movie was not based on any other work, I was hopeful about it, despite my initial dread. "If they chose to have them in such key roles, even though they weren't forced by an original work, it must mean they can do it".
And thankfully, I was right to feel reassured. These guys are good for the parts. They're not "Blue Dragon Film Awards" material, but they are convincing, their Korean is good, they are perfectly capable of carrying the roles given to them. Honestly, a breath of fresh foreign air in Asian cinema. Please S.Korea, cast these guys more, if you can. No more wooden and talentless blonde people who get the part simply cause they're blonde with blue eyes or half-Koreans with blue contact lenses. I'm sorry, but that "Russian" girl in "My Girlfriend is an Agent" was ridiculous. Not to mention she looked less like a diplomat and more like a cheap pole dancer. Thank goodness it suits the style of the movie.
Speaking of women, the "lead" female character in "Haunters", played by Jeong Eun-chae seems to only be there as another "innocent" and just to give the men (or gay women) watching the movie something nice to look at. I can't judge her acting-wise yet, but she also doesn't have much in the story going for her. Perfectly understandable as it's her first role, as far as I know. She looks nice, is likable and serves her purpose in both plot and the visual side of things.
Yoon Da-kyeong, who is playing Cho In's mother, however, is a much stronger actress with as much charisma as her "son". She doesn't have many scenes, but she is excellent in the ones she has.
What You See
The movie is very satisfying visually, showing all the right things in the right way and creating an optimal atmosphere for the events that take place. It is also very dark and uses cold filters and even toned down colors in the wardrobe to create a very bleak and pale look. The characters' outfits are carefully selected with Kyu Nam wearing a bit more colorful and simple things, while Cho In wears black and grey. The movie also avoids showing too many open spaces, which helps maintain the feeling of close quarters and thus makes the chasing and confrontations more intense. The whole thing looks polished and professional.
What You Hear
This might be a bit of a surprise for people, although the trailer does set the tone of the score. You'd expect heavy orchestral music for the showdowns and a few licensed songs in-between, but the movie seems to mix and match a lot. It uses quite bold pieces, some of which sound like they'd belong in a rave party rather than the movie, but they somehow make it work well. They support and carry the scenes, while giving the awesomeness of the fights a boost. It also uses some nice rock themes, combining drums and electric guitar with more orchestral instruments that give it a more edgy and raw style while still being appropriate and "score-y". It's fresh and it works.
Some Things To Wrap Up
When it comes down to it, "Haunters" is a good action thriller film. It's an epic fight in a very non-epic setting between two very simple individuals who happen to have very unique powers. It's dark, it's cool, it's intense and it keeps you at the edge of your seat. However, it's not a story-heavy movie. You won't get many explanations or even debates on what's good, bad, wrong, right, what powers do to people and what people should do with them. So, unless you get why Cho In needs to be stopped and why Kyu Nam wants to stop him, unless you get drawn into the whole thing and go with the flow, you might not like much about this movie. It's one of those "leave your brain behind and enjoy the mayhem" types of films that are all about the fight, not about the reasons behind it.
Who Will Like It
Men, women, a bit on the nerdy side. People who like movies with superpowers for the mayhem itself and not the costumes and gadgets. Those who can watch something shallow for the heck and coolness of it. And the blood... And some drool. Also, any fans (or fangirls) who like either or both of the main actors. They're not in their best-looking state, though, so unless you still appreciate them as actors when they're a dirty, bleeding, drooling mess, this movie is not for you. Or let me put it this way. If their talent doesn't mean jack squat to you unless they look nice, clean and handsome, get out of here, you shallow, emotionally disturbed and twisted kyaagirls!
4 out of 5: Could have had more depth and drama to the story or at least some more character development which is almost non-existent. That said, it's still a cool movie that I personally love to watch again and again and again. Love the conflict, love the action, love the style.
On the Fanboy Scale: 2 out of 5. There's only one young and good-looking woman and she has very few scenes, hardly any make-up or nice style. She's very soft and pretty though. For those who like the cute innocent type. But there's blood. A fair amount. And there's nice action, just not much hand-to-hand combat. There's a car chase, there are sort-of-explosions and all the goodies of action films, just in a different scale and more up-close-and-personal.
On the Fangirl Scale: 3 out of 5. Fighting men are always hot, but these ones could be hotter. I'd appreciate the movie less then though... That said, Ko Soo is too dressed all the time and also pretty dirty. No, not "dirty" the fun way. The hair is simple too, but that's a plus. Realistic. Mister Turkish Delight, Enes Kaya, is also a fine looking man, but being a sidekick, he kind of fades a bit compared to the leads. Kang Dong-won looks hot with the CGEyes, but the skinniness is more scary than the character himself. I also can't help but crack up every time I realize how much he looks like a child of L and Frodo.
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"Viewer Review - Haunters"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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