Psychokinesis is South Korea’s first superhero film, and what better person to helm the project than Yeon Sang-ho, director of Train of Busan, one of the best films of 2016 that not only reinvented the zombie genre but also reminded us that any genre that’s been run into the ground can always feel fresh again with the right story. The superhero genre has been dominating the movie market for a while now and for some, the feeling of oversaturation has already hit. What else can be done for a genre that’s existed for decades?
What makes Psychokinesis stand out among the rest is that the movie isn’t attached to any existing franchise. It isn’t a part of a cinematic universe of films that have to connect and weave together to lead up to be the next big thing. Psychokinesis is simply a film about an average joe who suddenly gets superpowers and he has to decide what he wants to do with this extraordinary strength. Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) is an average joe in the form of a security guard for a bank. There’s nothing special about him, except that he’s stealthy when it comes to stealing coffee from his workplace.
He doesn’t even realize the moment when he obtains psychokinetic strength because it happens in the most mundane way, it could’ve happened to anyone but sheer timing and routine bestow him with powers. Seok-heon may seem like a bumbling fool with nothing to lose, but the first conflict of the film occurs when he receives a call from his estranged daughter, Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung). There’s been an emergency and as much as she hates to contact him, she doesn’t have a choice. Seok-heon sees this moment as the chance to finally take care of his daughter, but she doesn’t welcome his idea with open arms.
There are no alien overlords who want to destroy the city, no billionaire mastermind hiding behind the guise of businessman with plans to bring society to its knees, the villain of the film is a construction company that wants to kick out Roo-mi and other tenants that run businesses in the neighborhood. Yes, that’s it. Roo-mi and the tenants are at constant odds with them, and the mafia ties of the company often put the lives of the business owners in danger but Roo-mi leads the group with unrelenting courage. She refuses to close her business for a company ran by thugs and she’ll risk her own life if it means confronting them face-to-face.
In many ways, Roo-mi is the real superhero of the film and she even doesn’t have powers. But Psychokinesis knows that and its unpredictability works when Seok-heon has to face reality for the first time when his daughter is in danger. All of the mistakes he’s made in the past can be fixed with his new ability, but the path to that isn’t easy. Sure, he can knock a bunch of criminals down with the flick of his wrist, but the real challenge is proving to his daughter that he can be a father.
The family drama doesn’t weigh the film down, instead, it provides emotional stakes. This would be a completely different film if Seok-heon was a nobody with no family or emotional ties to anyone but in this case, he’s a nobody with severed ties that he wants to fix. He wants to become a somebody to help his daughter. He isn’t driven by selfishness.
In every superhero film, there’s that moment where the protagonist solidifies themselves as a hero. Whether it’s saving some kids from a burning building or preventing a disastrous accident, that moment always happens and it’s badass. Psychokinesis plays with the idea that superheroes don’t always appear “super” and the result is lighthearted comedy that doesn’t feel forced but instead relies on physical humor that highlights how silly it can look being a superhero. Seok-heon doesn’t have a costume, he’s in regular clothes. He’s still adjusting to his new ability so his mannerisms when trying to control objects are interesting, to say the least. Let’s just say that he looks like your drunk uncle, and that’s okay because that’s exactly what Psychokinesis is trying to be.
We’re so accustomed to superhero films with epic fight scenes, villains who want to take over the world, and stakes risking the life of mankind but Psychokinesis is refreshing to watch because it isn’t about the spectacle, it’s the story of a guy trying to do better who just happens to have superpowers. And that’s the biggest strength of the film, it hooks you with its story and its characters and is unapologetically aware that this isn’t Captain America. This isn’t Superman. This is Seok-heon, average joe with above average abilities.