Netflix UK film review: Psychokinesis
James R | On 28, Apr 2018
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung, Park Jung-min Park
Watch Psychokinesis online in the UK: Netflix UK
With Train to Busan, Korean director Yeon Sang-ho steamrolled onto the world stage, announcing himself as a filmmaker of energy, wit and action to rival anything on offer in Hollywood. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that his follow-up to that gloriously gruesome thrill ride was promptly snapped up as Netflix original – and with the film finally arriving on the streaming service, it more than lives up to its promise.
The premise is simple: one day, after a brush with some magic water, everyday dude Shin Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) discovers that he has superpowers. Oh great, another superhero movie, you might think. Or wonder why we need this when we’ve got Marvel Studios upping up ante dramatically in Avengers: Infinity War for its 10th anniversary. But Psychokinesis isn’t just a superhero movie: it’s one of the most unique superhero movies you’ll see this decade.
That’s largely because Yeon is a storyteller willing to think small: where the MCU has expanded to the point of critical mass and its posters bulge with heroes, Psychokinesis is an intimate drama centred on two characters – Shin, a security guard, and his daughter, Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung, from Train to Busan), who runs a chicken shop. The film may be named after its central ability, but it’s more about what he does with it: use it to try and help his little girl.
Even with his powers, Shin is far from an ideal role model: he nicks toilet roll from work, walked out on his family when his daughter was 10 and his primary thought when he discovers his mind-bending strength is to use it to get a job doing magic tricks at a local nightclub. Ryu Seung-ryong is fantastically pathetic as the dubious protagonist, selling what could be a corny journey to redemption with heartfelt sincerity. Shim Eun-kyung, meanwhile, is brilliant as his resilient daughter. With her mum dead, she doesn’t welcome the man who left her back into her life with open arms, instead screaming at him and calling him out on his flaws – a confrontation delivered with a raw honesty that adds real weight to events.
Yeon, at the same time, never lets his hero appear all that heroic – the visual effects are brilliantly deployed to almost slapstick effect, making sure that his abilities are as silly and ridiculous as they are staggeringly impressive. Everything is always grounded, right down to the underwhelming video footage that other characters watch within the film, in which Shin’s skills seem more like practical jokes than something supernatural. Even the bad guy aren’t looking to dominate the world: there’s simply a company attempting to evict Shin’s daughter from her home.
And yet as tiny as this story remains, Psychokinesis leaps to stunning heights in a little over 90 minutes. Yeon takes the time to step into the community threatened by the real estate dispute, making sure that even though the scale isn’t going to trump Marvel, the stakes certainly can; with the close-up depiction of its Seoul neighbourhood, this is a story that feels as personal and Korean as it does entertaining and universal. Like Train to Busan, it’s a deliriously enjoyable slice of graphic, novel cinema, with the director deftly balancing genre flourishes with character and heart. Flying through the air can be breathtaking to witness, but just as awe-inspiring is a dad using his powers to help his daughter carry some glasses to a table.
Psychokinesis is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.