THE DIVINE FURY (2019)
Often preposterous and muddled but with rushes of visceral revelry, an MMA fighter develops a mysterious injury and becomes entwined with an exorcism priest
All global cinema on exorcism lives in the shadow of a certain US masterpiece from the 70s, and modern Korean cinema has had vacillating fortunes in its wake – from the unrivalled brilliance of The Wailing (2016) to the patchy efforts of Metamorphosis (2019).
In The Divine Fury the atmospheric religious overtones of other exorcism films is pitched alongside bare-chested six-pack bulging action fighting. So kudos to Kim Ju-hwan, who previously directed Midnight Runners (2017), for managing to create the world’s first MMA-exorcism cross-over film, even if the results are a jumbled bag of success.
Our well-cast lead here is Yong-hoo, played by Park Seo-joon (Chronicles of Evil, Midnight Runners), an undefeated fighter who is driven by the rage of his parents’ death. Specifically, with his mother already gone, as a child his father also passes. The tragedy happens despite Yong-hoo’s constant prayer and appeals to God.
The result is Yong-hoo turns away from religion and instead focuses on channelling his pain into the cage, making his rivals pay with vicious beat-downs instead. Yong-hoo then develops an injury on his palm which persistently reopens. When medical science struggles to find answers, he seeks out the advice of a young spirit seeker and eventually Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki – Mandala, Village in the Mist, The Age of Success).
No ordinary priest, Father Ahn operates as a rather busy exorcist with direct connections to the Vatican. Korea seems to be undergoing something of a possession frenzy and when he meets Yong-hoo the pair discover that the fighter’s injury, a religious stigmata, can be used to free victims of their demon.
The film takes an about-turn here, as Yong-hoo’s father issues are linked to the affable Father Ahn and they start to form an odd-couple exorcism team. With a ‘dark priest’ (Woo Do-hwan) wreaking havoc, the pair must pool their power to win.
While there is plenty of entertainment to be sheened from the film’s fight scenes and dicey exorcisms, alongside a unique concept and superb set design, The Divine Fury is a film which too regularly sags when it should be sprinting. There are simply too many distracted plot points and diversions.
The film also features screen beauty Park Ji-hyun, who you might suspect was heading for a career of soft-focus K-Dramas and love interest film roles, who instead finds herself somehow landing another role as the demon-possessed after her turn in the engaging found-footage horror Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018).
Concepts around Christianity, faith and loss are unpacked with interest, but there also seems to be a muddle understanding on some religious concepts in the film, such as notions of fate being championed while some theological concepts of free well are ignored.
An ambitious and unique project, but one that would have benefited from streamlining and fat tucking. An MMA fighter turned demon ass-kicking exorcist is a simple action-horror romp that does not justify its two-plus hours’ runtime.