There can be just as much enjoyment in going on a journey you do know as in venturing on one marked by unfamiliar terrain. The predictability of something brings comfort, while something peculiar offers its own enticements. Writer/director Yoon Jae-keun (Heartbeat) offers the latter in his sophomore film, the science-fiction action drama Spiritwalker. From the jump, it has you off-center, unsure of what’s going on, with details coming out a trickle at a time. Given time, answers come and with such rapid-fire speed and depth that you’ll almost wish more mystery remained. Ultimately, though, Spiritwalker provides audiences with a mostly satisfying cinematic experience, which they’re now able to enjoy from home on digital or physical formats.
Waking up with no knowledge of his identity, how he got to where he is, and bleeding profusely, the man (Yoon Kye-Sang) should be terrified, except what worries him is that he can’t shake the feeling that he’s not himself. This feeling only grows stronger when he inexplicably jumps into a different body at noon, then again at midnight. Confused and growing scared, the only thing he knows for sure is there’s some connection between the people he’s jumping into and one woman might have the answers: Moon Jin-ah (Lim Ji-yeon). Problem is that she perceives each body he jumps into as a menace and she’s not the only one who wants to put the threat down for good. With threats seemingly everywhere and answers nowhere, the man has to fight time and circumstance if he ever wants to discover who he is.
Jae-keun’s script is fairly tight and is at its strongest when the man is at his most confused. Part of this is due to the seamless technical approach that has Kye-Sang performing a scene before whichever character everyone else thinks he is comes into the scene to perform it on-camera, too, so that what the audience sees looks natural. In the opening scene, we’re just as confused as the man when Kye-Sang notices his reflection and it’s not the same person looking back. Through Kye-Sang’s performance, we are able to see the psychological torment swirling in the man’s mind just as we aren’t wholly sure at first if it’s not our eyes playing tricks on us. But just like the man senses down deep that the person he sees in a reflection, the person that everyone else sees before them, isn’t who he is, we, too, come to realize the truth of what we’re seeing. It’s just easier for us to recognize that it’s not a trick as we’re separated from story via digital celluloid. In concert with the script, we not only believe what we see, but we come to understand the weight of it and the unbridled terror the man experiences with each body jump. Rather than live in that terror, though, the script finds ways to provide answers, so that by the third jump, not only does the man come to understand the rules, but both he and the audience have enough information spread across a 24hr+ period to put some pieces together. This doesn’t mean he’s calm; not by any stretch of the imagination. He just has a better grip on his new reality and can make it work for him. Even the transitions from one body to another are impressive, the current location almost literally melting away as the new location comes into our view. It’s a clever way to externalize the internal transformation of the man from body to body and enhances the general sense of unpredictability to his situation.
Where the film lost some steam for me, however, is in the answers provided. It’s not to imply that answers aren’t necessary, but what we get strangely diminishes the mystery. Not only that, but it becomes an enormous reach into the metaphysical that strains against what feel like plausible rules for the story. On the one hand, we’ve come to understand that the man is able to body transfer every 12 hours without control, so any explanation should just be accepted as fact. Except, as explained, what is causing the man do body jump doesn’t track in an otherwise straight crime drama film. This isn’t The Crow (1994) with supernatural rules or even a Last Action Hero (1993) with action hero rules. That Jae-keun’s script spends as much time as it does making the impossible seem possible, the explanation removes much of the majesty and mystique.
The bonus features are really light on this release. There’s the usual Well Go USA previews and film trailers, though this release does include a brief making-of featurette of just under four minutes. Though it does feel more promotional than typical featurettes (the cast and director speak directly to the audience at the end), home viewers do get an inside peek into how the cast functioned as a unit, how Kye-Sang handled the stunts, and an idea of how Jae-keun handled directing some of the stunts. While not a deep dive by any measure, you’ll at least feel like you learned something by the end of it.
Despite a few things hampering total enjoyment, Spiritwalker is almost entirely as advertised: a psychological drama mixed with the metaphysical and a dash of action. The stunts are engaging, there’s weight to every interaction, and the swirling mystery is satisfying in its conclusion. The camera tricks in Spiritwalker should evoke the same awe some audiences that enjoyed Edgar Wright’s magic in Last Night in Soho (2021), as Jae-keun utilized similar in-camera trickery to dazzling affects. So much of what’s on-screen is either practical in effect or through the script that very little in Spiritwalker feels manufactured or false. While this film may not have the groundswell support of, say, Benny Chan’s final film Raging Fire (2021), those who enjoyed that should certainly find themselves delighted by this.
Spiritwalker Special Features:
- The Making of Spiritwalker (3:53)
- Action Trailer
- Well Go USA Previews
Available on the Hi-YAH! March 18th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital April 12th, 2022.
For more information, head to Well Go USA’s Spiritwalker webpage.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.