“How many people here tonight are telekinetic? Raise my hand.”
That’s a classic joke from surrealist comic Emo Phillips, but it’s also just one example of a favored fantasy Hollywood keeps revisiting: the human urge to be able to move things with our minds.
Be it the story of Matilda, Carrie, or Luke Skywalker, telekinetic abilities are extremely powerful — and exceptionally handy when it comes to revenge. One Netflix original film, first released in 2018, delivers an iconic director’s take on this material. Though it wasn’t a blockbuster at the time, it’s on streaming now, where it can be recognized as the perfect palate cleanser in a world overpopulated by gritty superhero films.
Psychokinesis is a 2018 Korean superhero black comedy from Yeon Sang-ho, the director of zombie instant classic Train to Busan. Compared to the high horror and breakneck action of that film, Psychokinesis is a bit more mundane, instead telling a story of a father trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But oh, yeah: he’s telekinetic.
The film opens with a TV report of a popular chicken restaurant run by local culinary wunderkind Shin Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung) She’s had a hard life and runs the restaurant to take care of her mother, as her father is absent. But Roo-mi’s life is about to get much harder, as a predatory construction company employs hired thugs to forcibly evict her from her business.
In an ensuing skirmish, Roo-mi’s mother is killed, forcing her to reach out to her father, Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) a security guard who recently took a sip from a mountain spring that had been hit by a meteor, granting him telekinetic powers. Seok-heon wants to make things right with his daughter, but first he has to come to terms with these new abilities.
While Psychokinesis lacks the visceral impact of Train to Busan (and wasn’t nearly as widely seen), there’s a heart and humor to this superhero origin story that makes it a feel-good watch. Much like Peter Parker taking his web-slinging powers to the wrestling ring in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Seok-heon’s first thought with his powers is, “How much does a magician make?” He’s not immediately looking to use his powers for vigilante justice, instead learning to capitalize on them to make ends meet. After all, nowadays, money seems to change lives more than justice.
Director Yeon Sang-ho told The Hindu his love of sci-fi emerged from this realistic approach to telekinesis.
“The thing that attracts me the most is the fact you can show reality through metaphor,” he said. “This allows immense creative freedom. This process is extremely enjoyable to me.”
Still, Seok-heon eventually finds a worthwhile cause that could lead him to reconnect with his daughter. As in all good superhero movies, the villain is just as powerful as the hero, but in this case, the villain’s power is merely the brutal reality of gentrification. The realism doesn’t stop there, either. The ending of Psychokinesis is shocking, yet satisfying. (Don’t worry: there’s a happy ending.)
Whether you’re a little exhausted by the superhero movie churn, a lover of Korean cinema, or merely a moviegoer who wants to dip one toe into international cinema, this movie is the perfect place to start — and earns its place within the greater Telekinetic Cinematic Universe.
Psychokinesis is now streaming on Netflix.