Spiritwalker (2020, Yoon Jae-geun)

I was expecting Spiritwalker’s MacGuffin to disappoint, but I wasn’t expecting it to completely derail the film. Spiritwalker is a high-concept action thriller about an amnesiac, Yoon Kye-sang, who discovers he is quantum leaping from person-to-person every twelve hours. He also has a very particular set of skills. Those skills come in handy because everyone he jumps into is some kind of underworld figure. Yoon’s got vague memories of his life before—something about a woman, Lim Ji-Yeon, of course—and his only friend is Park Ji-hwan.

Park’s character is an unhoused person who happens upon Yoon in a car accident and calls it in (while searching the car for loose items). He’s also the most uncomplicated fun Spiritwalker ever gets to have, with lots of comic reactions to discovering Yoon in a new body. Yoon mostly plays the part every time, with reflections and camera footage showing the actual person he’s possessed. After the MacGuffin reveal, Spiritwalker makes several bad moves, but the worst is Park mostly disappearing from the movie, followed by director Yoon Jae-geun not using Yoon enough. It wouldn’t end up mattering—the third act is a CGI composited action ballet bloodbath–but after a whole movie creating his character, director Yoon shafts actor Yoon.

There are some other big problems in the post-MacGuffin film, as well, like Spiritwalker deciding the criminal underworld also needs a covert espionage agency subplot tacked on and then final boss Park Yong-woo having a pointless drug addiction bit. The movie runs an hour and fifty-ish minutes and could easily lose ten from the third act. There’s lots of needless activity just to drag it out, which makes sense since the MacGuffin’s so bad.

Approximately the first half of Spiritwalker is a sort of neo-noir. Yoon is working his way through this criminal organization, jumping from crook to crook and trying to remember what’s going on. Sidekick Park can only help so much, and since all of the people Yoon’s inhabiting are dangerous criminals, no one really wants to exposition dump with him. Especially not Lim, who thinks he’s a bad guy (obviously).

The amnesia and identity crisis mix works, especially since director Yoon never tries too hard with the action. All of actor Yoon’s “particular skill” scenes surprise him, which makes the scenes more entertaining and sympathetic. The reveal on the quantum leaping will be both bad and insipid, but—again—what happens after is even worse. As a thriller director, Yoon’s solid. As an action director? Not so much. His composition for the third act is always off and always predictable. He goes through the same setups over and over. All of Spiritwalker’s technical pay-off comes in the early second act; the rest is a visual bore.

Until the script literally abandons him, actor Yoon’s a good lead. He does the confused quantum leaper thing well, though it might not be a compliment. He’s best at being bewildered without character development. Lim’s fine as the not femme fatale who inexplicably has a similar particular set of skills. That late second act reveal of the espionage agency’s involvement pays zero dividends and trades ostensible coherence for personality. Suddenly, director Yoon wants to be making a John Wick or something, complete with level bosses; Lim gets lost in it all.

Park Ji-hwan is good and fun as the sidekick. Park Yong-woo is fantastic as the big boss; it’s an exceptionally thin part, but Park devours enough scenery to plump it up.

The rest of the supporting cast is solid without being distinct.

Spiritwalker’s only ever going to be able to go so far on its concept, but it should’ve been able to go farther than it gets. It’s never bad and is rather compelling until the loud, yawner of a third act, but it’s a definite bummer.

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