I wasn’t aware of the prominence of Christianity in South Korea, but according to a quick Google search, close to a third of the population identify as Christians. The question came up when watching Kim Joo-hwan’s The Divine Fury, a religious action thriller about a man who loses his faith, but is called to a greater purpose as the forces of Hell infect Seoul.
When his police officer father dies in hospital after being severely injured by a reckless driver, young Yong-hoo Park angrily rejects God, blaming the priest who told him to pray for his father’s recovery. Twenty years later, Yong-hoo (Seo-Joon Park) is an undefeated mixed martial arts fighter revered across the globe. But Yong-hoo still harbors resentment for Christianity, so much so that every time he sees a crucifix, his eyes glow red and he hears a voice in his head telling him to kill.
“Filled with horrific and hellish imagery”
One night, Yong-hoo dreams of following his father down a hallway into a room. In the middle is a crucifix but when Yong-hoo picks it up to throw it away, it burns his hand. He wakes up to find a bleeding wound in the center of his palm. No doctor can explain the mysterious nature of the wound. Every night, the cut reopens, staining his bed sheets with blood. With all other options exhausted, Yong-hu goes to a blind shaman. The shaman takes one look at Yong-hoo and tells him he’s surrounded by dark spirits, and that he must seek out a local priest Father Ahn (Sung-Ki Ahn) for more answers.
Yong-hoo finds Father Ahn amidst performing an exorcism. But the priest’s traditional methods aren’t working. The possessed man breaks free of his restraints and attacks. But when Yong-hoo’s palm touches the the man’s head, it bursts into white flames, killing the demon from within, but leaving the man unscathed. Father Ahn tells Yong-hoo that his wound is a gift from God known as stigmata—mysterious wounds similar to the ones inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was crucified. He goes on to help the priest with exorcising demons, which seem to be more and more frequent. Across the city, a hooded figure referred to as the Dark Bishop (Do-Hwan Woo) performs sacrificial rituals, offering the souls of sinners to Satan in exchange for eternal life.
The Divine Fury has the similar arc of a superhero origin movie. Think Constantine with the powers of Iron Fist. Even when he’s confronted with demons and the power he wields within his hand, Yong-hoo reiterates that he doesn’t believe in God. It makes him the perfect tool for God’s plan, because the Bible is chock-full of stories about unlikely candidates becoming champions for God’s people. Although reluctant, Yong-hoo interacts well with Father Ahn, who offers him fatherly guidance, something Yong-hoo missed out on for most of his life. Both of them have encountered tragedy and have had their own crisis of faith, yet are very different in their outlook in life.
Yong-hoo’s MMA skills come in handy fighting off demons. The third act of the movie involves some intense single-shot kung-fu fight scenes. It’s a lot like a video game, as Yong-hoo punches his way up the chain of command, with each new foe stronger than the last.
“Without the horror elements, The Divine Fury would only be a Christian propaganda superhero movie.”
The special effects are quite something in this. The exorcism scenes have the possessed crawling up the walls and flying up to the ceilings. Their eyes are either bloodshot red or have multiple pupils, to indicate they are inhabited by several demons. It makes reference to one of the more memorable Bible quotes from my Sunday School days, a line that is oft-repeated in horror; “I am Legion.”
The movie is filled with horrific and hellish imagery. Red-eyed shadows creep along the walls in Yong-hoo’s bedroom, screeching like the Nazgul at the sight of his stigmata. The scenes set in the Dark Bishop’s headquarters—the basement of a nightclub called Babylon—are particularly horrifying. The rituals the Dark Bishop performs have a remote effect on his victims across the city. Citizens stop in their tracks and scream in agony as the Dark Bishop laughs malevolently, dropping ingredients into a supposed portal to Hell. The cinematography is slick, getting progressively darker as our hero gets closer to our villain.
Without the horror elements, The Divine Fury would only be a Christian propaganda superhero movie, not a winning combination in my mind. The movie is quite long too, a bit over two hours. The exorcisms are a bit repetitive and a few other unnecessary scenes could have been trimmed. However, I’m no expert in Korean cinema. I imagine Koreans have a much longer attention span than I do, and I predict this movie will become very popular overseas. A mid-credit scene opens the door for a possible franchise, though a stronger, more evil villain will be needed. Will they go after Satan himself? Stay tuned.
The Divine Fury had its North American premiere on Thursday August 1st at the International Fantasia Film Festival. It is set to open in select theatres across North America on August 16th. Let us know what you think of the film over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.