Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"There are some particularly dazzling sequences when sets rearrange themselves in dreamlike fashion around our hero."

Sitting by the side of the homeless man who called the ambulance after he crashed his car, the hero of Yoon Jae-geun’s slick action thriller laments that he doesn’t know who is. He has no name, he has no identification, he knows nothing about his life. Smiling sympathetically and pointing out that a lot of people in his community have had similar experiences, the homeless man brings out three items of food and invites him to choose one. Although initially he hesitates to eat any of them, the hero eventually settles on a hot dog. “How do you know why you are?” asks the homeless man. “You’re the one who likes hot dogs.”

It’s a neat way to sum up the experience of individuality and personhood – of spirit, if you like – without needing to use conventional reference points. This is particularly important to Hotdog, as he comes to be known, because he can’t even draw conclusions based on his appearance. Without knowing way, he keeps finding himself in different bodies. The only clue he has as to what’s happening is the car in which he crashed, which has been sent to a local junkyard. Breaking into it, he finds a photograph of a smiling woman – what looks like a holiday snap. If he can track her down, he thinks, he might be able to find out who he really is and what’s happening to him.

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There are obvious similarities here to Justin McConnell’s Lifechanger, not least the importance of a charismatic supporting performance by a woman who creates a sense of consistency as male actors come and go. The story takes us to a very different place, however, and the fact that the bodies which Hotdog uses both survive and revert to their previous owners afterwards – causing them some confusion – allows the actors more room to explore. The quality of performances is variable but all the actors succeed in embodying a personality which is distinctly Hotdog, and Yoon uses them well, saving the more impressive talents for the most demanding parts of the story.

Complicating this is the fact that, as well as conveying Hotdog’s personality and those of their other characters, most of the actors also need to be able to fight in these two modes, as the film makes heavy use of martial arts. Whilst we don’t really get a sense of how difficult it must be to fight using an unfamiliar body – with a different weight, different reflexes, etc., from what one is used to – we do, again, get a sense of consistency. The fights happen as Hotdog’s investigation leads him into a complicated network of gangsters, secret agents and corruption, with a new designer drug at the centre of it all. Caught in the middle of it is the mystery woman, but though he feels a desire to help her, he can’t really be sure if they’re on the same side.

This profusion of actors and tangled plot can become confusing for the viewer at times, so you will need to pay attention, but beyond this you need not worry that your brain will be overtaxed in what is just a slightly more complicated take on the Jason Bourne idea. It doesn’t have quite such flashy set pieces but, as is par for the course in Korean thrillers these days, the production values are excellent and everything looks very slick. There are some particularly dazzling sequences when sets rearrange themselves in dreamlike fashion around our hero as he shifts from one body to another. Here the film seem to play with the fact that it is, after all, a work of fiction; perhaps Hotdog is the only character who has realised that he’s borrowing the form of somebody else, when they’re all ultimately in the same position. This, however, is about as deep as it gets.

There’s plenty to play with here and the ending hints at a sequel, but a lot more character development would be necessary to make that work. Twists and gimmick aside, there’s not enough going on in Spiritwalker to make it stand out, and it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, it’s a solid piece of entertainment to enjoy on a Saturday night.

Reviewed on: 12 Apr 2022
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Spiritwalker packshot
A fantasy action film that revolves around a man who loses his memory and subsequently wakes up in a new body every 12 hours.

Director: Yoon Jae-geun

Writer: Yoon Jae-geun

Starring: Yoon Kyesang, Lim Ji-Yeon, Park Yong-woo, Hong Gi-jun

Year: 2020

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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