Avengers: Infinity War will break the box-office with the strength of Thor’s hammer this weekend. It’s deserved as it’s a surprisingly bold and brave entry in the MCU. Even so, I feel obligated to make the case for Psychokinesis – a South Korean superhero film available to stream on Netflix equally worth watching.
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan, Seoul Station), the film’s premise is enough to recommend the movie. Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) is a middle-aged, divorced loser working as a security guard in a bank. One morning, drinking from a polluted water supply, he gains telekinetic powers. He uses his new gift to try help his daughter, Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung) save her fried chicken restaurant from a corrupt business attempting to bulldoze the property.
What’s nice about Psychokinesis is the little things it does differently to the typical superhero movie. Aside from being a fair bit more violent given it’s Korean, it doesn’t radically alter the formula for these types of film. What it does change though makes for a stronger, more intimate tale.
For instance, whereas Doctor Strange, Iron Man or Batman are all geniuses in some shape or form before they get their abilities, Seok-heon really is pathetic. In an early scene, we see him taking coffee sachets and toilet paper from his place of work and convincing an elderly cleaning lady to do the same. Later, he sees her being caught with the ‘stolen’ goods by her boss and just walks on.
Meanwhile, a sizable chunk of the movie focuses on Seok-heon’s quest to simply make a quick buck. He wants to be a magician, tricking people into thinking his powers are part of an act. It’s these plot-beats that make the moment when the protagonist steps up to be the hero all the more satisfying. The viewer understands how big of a decision it is for Seok-heon because we’ve seen him at his worst.
The fact that the film keeps the stakes small but personal works wonders for it. There’s no city-wide destruction or giant beams of light coming from the sky. It’s just a family’s struggle against a heartless business. Thus, Psychokinesis has emotional stakes and a story that’s relatable despite its’ fantastical elements.
Also impressive is how strong the female characters are. Roo-mi ran a successful business with the help of her mother, not her father. Seok-heon abandoned her as a child, something she still resents him for even as he helps her. Thus, Roo-mi never asks for his assistance despite his power. Plus, while she is given a love interest of sorts in the form of a young lawyer defending her against the corrupt business, she is never the damsel in distress. In fact, the lawyer is rather ditzy in comparison to the focused Roo-mi.
Like this year’s other Netflix movie Bad Day for the Cut, Psychokinesis sets up a male as the villain – only to pull the curtain to reveal he’s actually the underling of a female big baddie. Halfway through the film, actress Jung Yu-mi (Train to Busan) injects new energy into the film as Director Hong, the head of the business that wants Room-mi’s property. With her arch delivery and her big grins while delivering menacing threats, Yu-mi walks away with the film.
Psychokinesis doesn’t rival Avengers: Infinity War in terms of effects and acting (outside of the leads I mentioned, the supporting cast are a tad spotty). However, it does so in charm and inventiveness. If you are in a genre mood, flick Psychokinesis on through Netflix. Then, seek out Train to Busan if you haven’t seen it.