Spiritwalker is an action, sci-fi, mystery hodge-podge that doesn’t do justice to the genres it mashes together.
But the setup intrigues. Kang I-an, simplified to Ian in the subtitles, wakes up at the scene of a car crash with a bullet wound in his shoulder. He has no memories of his past or how he got there, much less how he got shot. More unnerving is his reflection, which is of a different person. How he realizes that’s not his face is explained by a whole lot of “Idunnos.”
Me: “How does he know he’s not himself if he has no memories?”
Director: “I dunno”
This movie sure loves “Idunnos” because they keep coming fast and furiously.
Do you know what’s not fast or furious? This movie.
It plods along at a decent clip but never generates much excitement. Even when we get to the requisite car chases, fistfights, and shootouts, they’re capably presented but somehow, like the movie itself, unenthusiastic.
Another complication turns up about 30 minutes into the story; every 12 hours Ian jumps into a new body. The movie illustrates this by having the actor playing Ian, Yoon Kyesang, remaining as the face of whatever new body he jumps into, only showing the other characters’ visages in reflections or when we’re supposed to see what another character does. It remains surprisingly unconfusing, so kudos to director Jae-geun Yoon for that.
But then the movie doesn’t have fun with that concept. So shame on director Jae-geun Yoo. Something that’s never brought up or dealt with in any meaningful way is the physical differences of the people he jumps into. Ian is fit and a capable fighter, but what would happen if he jumped into the body of somebody who wasn’t? How about dealing with height differences? One host character is shown as a drug addict late in the movie. What would it have been like for Ian, who seems strait-laced, to jump into somebody who was high? Or how about what would happen if Ian’s host body died?
Director: “I dunno”
The movie’s too busy with its central mystery of who Ian is and how he got himself into this predicament. The problem is that this mystery, once unwound, isn’t worth that effort. It’s rote and predictable. And so, as the movie goes through the myopic motions of explaining itself, as if that’s the most important aspect here, my interest waned. So much so that when I had to pause the movie just as the answers started coming, I wasn’t only not frustrated that I had to stop, but I didn’t much care for the three days it took for me to get back and finish the movie.
It doesn’t help that the answers to how Ian is jumping from body to body are silly and vague. How could the film’s McGuffin (the object or device that triggers the plot) actually achieve what it achieves? What exactly are the rules for this?
Me: “…dunno. Gotcha.”
What I know is that Spiritwalker (I suck at compound words, but should it really be just one word?) squanders an opportunity to do something memorable with its concept and goes through the motions before ending with a John Wick-esque finale. It’s well-staged at least, but it’s too little too late, taking too long to get there, and honestly, aren’t too many shootouts close-quartered and indebted to the Keanu Reeves actioner these days?
I’m not a big fan of remakes, but apparently Hollywood is already eyeing this Korean “original” for an American redo. In this case, I say go for it. But next time? …have some actual fun with it!
Spiritwalker in its maddeningly one-word titled glory is available now on Digital, Blu-Ray, and DVD and can be streamed on the HI-YAH! action channel.