Movie Review: Switching bodies and kicking ass in Korea — “Spiritwalker”

The chases are pulse-pounding and the fights and shoot-outs — in streets and bars, hotel suites and inside a BMW SUV — are visceral, almost epic.

Just don’t let the fact that the Korean body-switch thriller “Spiritwalker” is confusing on a whole new level throw you. When your hero is literally switching bodies, left and right, literally every time his watch reads “12,” when the bodies he leaves — bad guys, to a one — stick around and return to the action later, when there’s some inconsistency to who exactly we’re looking at, rest assured you’re not the only one confused.

It probably all makes more sense in writer-director Yoon Jae-Keun’s head. It’s been ten years since his last film (“Heartbeat”). From the looks of “Spiritwalker,” he’s been writing and rewriting this thing that whole time, folding in more complications all the while.

A man (Yoon Kyesang) wakes up, bloodied and battered, after a car wreck. “Where am I? WHO am I?”

The homeless guy (Ji-hwan Park) rummaging through his wrecked SUV can’t help with that. But at least he called an ambulance. With no memory of his identity, a bullet wound, a photo of a pretty woman in front of a landmark Seoul church, he has the vague sense that maybe he shouldn’t wait in the hospital long enough to be interrogated by the cops sends him on his quest.

A few “OK, try to forget this detail” moments hit us straight away. No, that bleeding shoulder isn’t treated, not that we can see. Time passes very strangely in this film’s reality, as “Ian” or “Yoo” or “Baik” or “Jee” or whoever this dude is passes from person to person every time whatever watch he’s wearing tells him it’s 12 o’clock. That’s a lot of 12s.

People recognize him in this or that guise. Some are puzzled, some afraid and some come after him, pistol, hammer and tong. Depending on who he is, he might reflexively have mad “fighting back” martial arts skills. But sometimes it takes a moment or three to summon them up.

And reloading any of the pistols he fires in shoot-outs is a rare afterthought as whoever this guy is pursues whoever that woman Jina (Ji-hwan Park) is, and she either recognizes him warmly or (depending on his guise) pummels and threatens to kill him.

That hobo, who stole his car’s “black box” data and video recorder? He’s a hapless helper and comic relief bystander to all the mayhem to come.

It’s hard to say much about the acting, as our writer-director isn’t wholly consistent in who is “playing” the lead. Sometimes, the body switch is obvious, mostly we’re seeing Yoon Kyesang, who sees whoever he is supposed to be “now” in this or that mirror. Most viewers outside of Korea won’t recognize the leads and various fresh bodies inhabited or villains introduced. Lots of TV credits and films little known outside of the Peninsula among them.

But for all the body switheroos, the “MacGuffins” here are as commonplace as every other thriller you’ve seen in the past thirty years and the villains just as generic.

Well, one bad guy gets good and stoned and makes rash decisions accordingly, so that’s kind of novel.

Mostly, Yoon keeps his energy and attention on getting his characters to their next switch, their next fight or chase. The film’s loose grasp of time, gun magazine capacity and severity of injuries can’t all be written off to the biggest MacGuffin here, so “Spiritwalker” can play like a “Crank” with a hint of the supernatural.

But it’s still a fun ride, even if it’s hard to keep up with who the body-switched “star” might be.

Rating: unrated, lots of violence, drug abuse

Cast: Yoon Kyesang, Ji-Yeon Lim and Ji-hwan Park.

Credits: Scripted and directed by Yoon Jaeo keun. A Well Go release.

Running time: 1:48

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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