Seen in Jeonju

Brainwave (2006)

28th January 2011

brainwaveIf I had to predict what films would never make it to DVD, Brainwave would have been near the top of my list. But now five years after it was originally released in theaters, the DVD has been released It’s not that this debut film of Shin Tae-ra is bad, it’s just that it is such a low budget production. I remember seeing it years ago at the Jeonju International Film Festival and I rated it favorably on’s main page when we were using the goldfish ’star’ ratings. I also remember another critic giving it just one fish..citing the low budget as a problem.  I think the fact that Shin was able to craft an entertaining story without funds is one of the things that I actually like about the movie. Watching it now, I couldn’t help but calling to mind the this past summer’s, big-budget science fiction fare, Haunters (formerly known as Choin — KOFIC recently posted a new English name for it), which is somewhat similar in plot to Brainwave, and Brainwave compares quite favorably.

Telepathy is one of the least visually interesting super-powers to choose to make a film about. Flying or super-strength, claws or weather-control can all be rendered dynamically. But with telepathy, you get to watch someone thinking really hard. Do you remember watching horror movies as a kid that had invisible ghosts or aliens. I don’t know about you, but I always felt cheated. Telepathic powers can be a lot like that, but Brainwave, even with its limited budget, was able to make the ESP powers of Jeon Joon-oh and Min-woo interesting, if not consistant. And they do merely have ‘thought’ powers, they are also telekinetic which adds some interest to their fight scenes.

Joon-oh and Min-woo are both products of a lab accident. Scientists for an evil corporation were attempting to boost the brain levels of people who seemed to possess mild ESP abilities and empathic natures. Although the experiment was successful, the accident in the lab erased all the memories of the test subjects. Min-woo wants revenge for this and is now tracking down the people responsible one-by-one and using his powers to painfully murder them. Joon-oh is unaware of anything about this, or himself, and spends his time drawing. A blow to the head gradually awakens his powers though apparently at the price of his hearing. Oddly, he finds that he is able to hear when Min-woo is around and a connection between the two becomes apparent. Kim Do-yoon does a good job portraying Joon-oh but Brainwave was his last film to date.

The number of mysterious deaths do not long go unnoticed by the police. Two detectives are assigned to the case. I have to admit I did not like how they were written at the beginning of the film, particularly Detecitve Park Gi-soo. While violent policemen are not uncommon in Korean films, Detective Park Gi-soo is more like a thug when we first meet him than a law-enforcer. And really…how many policeman, after finding a cache of low-grade drugs on a possible thief, stuff half of the pills into the thief’s mouth? Very unrealistic, but his character is toned down as the story goes on. His partner, Detective Park Seong-min is much better, as is the actor who plays him. Song Byeong-wook has gradually been getting larger parts since this movie and definitely shows potential as an actor.

Shin Tae-ra also showed his potential as a director in this film. While there are some amaturish moments–especially with the gimmicky camera tricks– he does a good job on his first feature-length film. Shin would later go on to helm Black House (in which he gives most of the actors in this movie bit parts) and the box office hit, My Girlfriend is a Secret Agent.

If you have the chance to watch this movie, do not go into it with the expectations of flashy special effects or a seamless plot. You will be disappointed. However, if you can appreciate low-budget film-making with heart, then this is a movie for you.

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