사이코메트리 [Psychometry] — The Gifted Hands (2013)

This entry is part 58 of 72 in the series SF in South Korea

There is now a stereotype for psychics in Korean cinema. (Assuming there wasn’t already one, that is.)

Psychics are tall and pale as Snow White. They are skinny and their eyes do weird, sparkly blue things. Even if they’re from a poor background or living in poverty, they are obviously plastic-surgeried, and they look as if they belong in the back line of the photographs of a Korean boy band. Also, when they do something psychic, they look kind of crazy, and their eyes get really big too.

To be fair, it’s probably as much the investors pressuring the director to make another 초능력자 as it is his own fault. Working on films myself, I’ve gained an appreciation for how hard it is to figure out whose fault something is when it doesn’t quite work, and for a film with a budget and investors, that’s even more complex.

It’s hard not to be a bit sniping, though, since I cannot really call this a good SF movie. It is certainly better than the last attempt at psychic-centered film–which I explained was a piece of crap here–but it doesn’t quite manage to be a good movie itself. For one thing, a lot of what would have helped the film flow more logically seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. For another, the film seems to try to do what’s called in Bollywood a “Masala” movie, throwing in bits of relatively cheap comedy and melodrama which don’t just temporarily dissipate tension (which is a good thing) but actually jolt one out of the story as one tries to figure out what the hell is going on.

While there’s nothing wrong with throwing in a little comedy, the attempts in this film aren’t sophisticated: in a sense, they treat the audience like kids, and that, for me, bodes poorly for SF. (For the same reason that Neal Stephenson argues actors who want to do well in SF should exude a kind of “intelligence.”) There’s too much cheap humor, too much buddy-picture stuff, too much lack of clarity in what this film is really about. Storytellers take note: what your story is about matters in every scene. It always matters. That cheap, quick, easy departure? It’s a disruption, to be avoided.

That said, the audience didn’t seem to mind. They seemed to enjoy the “easy” comedy sprinkled in here and there. I suppose it may be a cultural difference, since comedy in Korean TV reminds me of nothing so much as comedy for kids in the West. (It’s not all that sophisticated in my experience; certainly, I’d be shocked if someone argued there is anyone who could be held up as the Korean equivalent of Bill Hicks, just as I would if someone pointed out what they felt was the Korean Nina Simone.)

The film also got on my nerves for reasons idiosyncratic to me: it features several of the classic, can’t-make-a-Korean-movie-without-’em scenes, of which I’ve seen quite enough examples, thank you. The ones that stick out in my mind include the guy talking through a mouthful of food, so that we have to see what he’s eating, and the handful of scenes where a supervisor is ridiculously physically abusive to an employee (the protagonist, a cop, is beaten on the head and face with a folder by his boss). Those, of course, are just personal annoyances, but I do wish I could see one Korean film that was free of these, as well as the obligatory meal scene, the obligatory nationalist milksop, and the obligatory guy acting like a little kid because he likes a girl. (I’m sure I could think of a few more; and don’t get me wrong, I’m sick of Hollywood cops fighting with their supervisors, and Americans saving the world. But I’m talking about a Korean film here, so that’s my focus.)

Anyway, the movie wasn’t horrible like the last few I’ve seen. (Both in terms of the last few Korean SF movies I’ve seen, and the last few films period: Oz was pretty disappointing, for reasons Jeremy Tolbert puts very well, and I was disappointed by Jack the Giant Killer too.) But if it wasn’t so bad, it also wasn’t really all that good either.

In its favor, it did deal with a timely topic: Korean society is just now waking up to the fact that, yeah, kids are vulnerable to violent and sexual predators. (This isn’t new in Korean society–or anywhere, really–but the openly public discussion seems new.) In that context, though, it seems to me that using a cop as a protagonist isn’t particularly helpful, even when the cop is given his own experience with the problem back in his own childhood: after all, most South Koreans I know expect the police to be straight-out useless when it comes to things like this. As an example, while we walked home from the cinema tonight, Mrs. Jiwaku told me about how a guy who’d been kidnapping women disembarking from late night buses, taking them to a shady spot, and feeling them up, had finally been arrested.. after eight years of doing this in Suwon, she said. (We couldn’t help but imagine the cops saying, “Guys, guys, we got this chick president now… who can we bust? Hey, wait, we’ve been saving that feeling-chicks-up guy for a special occasion, haven’t we?”) Granted, he wasn’t raping the women, but he was sexually assaulting them… and not just to adult women, but also to teenaged girls. And it took the cops eight years to bust him. They had more important things to do, for eight  years?  Given the reputation the police seem to have here, maybe it’s hard to get too invested in a cop protagonist. Certainly I find that to be the case…

But for those who are still curious, here’s a trailer:

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