The Divine Fury


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Divine Fury
"With beautifully choreographed fight scenes intercut with gentle comedy and character-focused drama, this film takes viewers on a thrilling ride."

If you were raised as a Christian or a member of a similar religion, how old were you when you first asked "Why does God let bad things happen?" It's a question that many devout adults still wrestle with and it's hard to give a satisfactory answer to a child, especially one who has been through such extreme trauma as losing his father, like young Yong-hoo. Not surprising, then, that the boy drifts away from his Catholic roots; but what he doesn't know is that his father was killed by a demon. When, 20 years later, he develops a strange wound which no-one else can cure, he's directed to charismatic priest Father Ahn (played by Ahn Sung-ki, one of South Korean cinema's greatest stars) and discovers that he seems to possess a divine gift that might give the chance to get revenge.

During those 20 years, Yong-hoo (now played by Park Seo-joon) has become an Ultimate Fighting champion, one of the best in the world He's rich and famous (during the adventures that follow, he frequently takes short breaks to chat to excited fans) and still greater stardom beckons, but Ahn, who specialises in exorcisms, warns him that he is surrounded by evil spirits which are trying to take possession of his troubled soul. Disinclined though he is to believe in the supernatural, he can't really deny what he's seen with his own eyes and felt with his own fists. Ahn also comes to fill a gap in his life left after his father's death, so despite his misgivings, pretty soon Yong-hoo is kicking ass for the Lord.

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True believers watching this may well find themselves asking why God lets Western Christian filmmakers produce so much insipid pap. This film spreads the Word with as much passion as its hero brings to his game - and yet retains a lightness of touch that means you don't need to be Christian to enjoy it. Anyone can root for the troubled Yong-hoo to find peace and it's pretty clear that the main bad guy (Woo Do-hwan) is not good news for anyone. He does have some natty clothes though, and a very glamorous line in occult paraphernalia, including a special knife with which he does the bidding of his unseen master.

Despite the fact that with a film of this type we always know good will triumph in the end, director Kim Joo-hwan delivers some genuinely scary moments. Ahn Sung-ki, impressive as always, gives his priest a fragility that suggests he's frequently working at the very limit of his abilities and even though he's no pushover we can't be fully confident that he'll succeed - or even survive.

With beautifully choreographed fight scenes intercut with gentle comedy and character-focused drama, this film, which closed the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival, takes viewers on a thrilling ride. It features some of the liveliest exorcisms seen in cinema for years and little touches of camp, from glowing red eyes to black goo pouring out of mouths, ensure that it doesn't get too serious. The Hitchcock homage in a murder of crows is nicely played out and Kim has no difficulty making the various motifs that he draws on fit his own style. He has brought a lot of talent together to create a film that, whilst it might have serious things to say, is first and foremost an electric piece of cinema.

Reviewed on: 02 Aug 2019
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The Divine Fury packshot
An Ultimate Fighting champion with a tragic past that has stripped him of his religious faith meets a charismatic priest who draws him into the dangerous world of exorcism.

Director: Kim Joo-hwan

Writer: Kim Joo-hwan

Starring: Park Seo-Joon, Ahn Sung-Ki, Woo Do-Hwan, Choi Woo-sik

Year: 2019

Runtime: 129 minutes

Country: South Korea


Fantasia 2019

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