South Korea stands out among East Asian countries for being heavily Christian—almost a third of its population identifies as such. Thus, we’re not surprised that, despite a broader East Asian cinematic landscape more known for ghosts and traditional folk religion, Korean horror flick The Divine Fury takes on a heavy Christian theme.
The film begins with Yong-hoo (Park Seo-joon) and his policeman father discussing their Christian faith. Yong-hoo’s mother died in childbirth, which makes him question his father’s strong belief in the power of prayer. This doubt only intensifies when a drunk motorist kills Yong-hoo’s father. Some years later, the adult Yong-hoo is now a famous (atheist) mixed martial arts fighter. After one fight, Yong-hoo starts bleeding from his palms—a phenomenon that doctors struggle to explain. He finally decides to visit a priest named An, who notices the resemblance with Jesus’ crucifixion. An tells Yong-hoo that his wound is in fact a Stigmata, with the ability to exorcise demons by lighting their faces on fire.
Buddy Cops Versus Demons
As it happens, priest An (Ahn Sung-ki) works as a full-time exorcist, using a holy cross and the power of Latin chants to remove demons from the human bodies that they take over. Although Yong-hoo is initially reluctant, he starts to help An out with the exorcisms, and Divine Fury almost takes on a buddy cop vibe. The duo spend considerable screen time discussing theology and the role of religion, but An also becomes a father figure for Yong-hoo as they battle possessed souls.
While Priest An prefers to use the words of God to fight demons, Yong-hoo has a much more kinetic approach to exorcism—beat the crap out of the demon and light their face on fire with his Stigmata (he’s an MMA fighter, after all). Divine Fury is as much a horror movie as it is an action movie packed with more than enough pure ass-kicking on the part of Yong-hoo.
Jack of All Trades, Master of None
However, we’re not convinced that Divine Fury straddles the two genres well. For one, people love horror movies because of how they create a sense of drama and suspense—something that this film eschews in favor of fight scenes. At the same time, action fans might find the screeching demons, bloodshot eyes, and occult themes off-putting if they were just looking for some pure ass-kicking. In trying to execute both horror and action, Divine Fury succeeds at neither.
A bigger weakness is the lack of character development over the course of Divine Fury. Yong-hoo’s struggle with his faith is resolved quite easily—after all, it’s pretty hard to deny the existence of heaven and hell when you’re literally trying to light demons’ faces on fire. Priest An’s character is even more flat, hardly changing over the two-plus hours of screentime.
With all these flaws, it’s no wonder that Yoona’s movie Exit beat it in theatres on opening day. Still, the movie does have one redeeming quality—at least Park Seo-joon fans can see him without a shirt on.
The Divine Fury is in theatres across Korea. It will be released in the US and Canada on August 16th, and across various Asian countries throughout the month of August.
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The Divine Fury (Korean: 사자)—South Korea. Dialog in Korean. Directed by Jason Kim Joo-hwan. First released Running time 2hr 9min. Starring Park Seo-joon, Woo Do-hwan, and Ahn Sung-ki.