Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a successful and ruthless mixed martial arts champion who holds a grudge against God for taking the life of his father starts developing stigmata on his hands and teams up with a grizzled veteran priest from The Vatican to put an end to a recent rash of demonic possessions. I can’t tell because I don’t know when you’re reading this, but I doubt that you stopped me from explaining to you the overall plot of the Korean thriller The Divine Fury, which takes its admittedly awesome high concept plot and runs in a direction that most viewers won’t expect. Instead of playing such a ripe premise for camp value, The Divine Fury takes itself pretty seriously. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Yong-hoo (Park Seo-joon), who goes by the in-ring nickname “The Grim Reaper,” is an internationally renowned, respected, and feared fighter. Since the death of his devout policeman father at the hands of a maniac who blew through a sobriety checkpoint, Yong-hoo has held a grudge against the father, son, and holy spirit, and the very sight of a cross tattooed on an opponent is enough to send him into a blind rage. One night on a flight back to Seoul from a bout in Los Angeles, Yong-hoo’s hand starts mysteriously bleeding and it won’t stop. After doctors can’t seem to help him, the doubting Thomas begrudgingly seeks out spiritual answers. He’s told the only man who might be able to help him is Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-Ki), a priest on loan from Catholisicm’s main headquarters. Father Ahn has his hands full, however, and he’s in Seoul to investigate an alarming and increasingly powerful number of demonic possessions that are the handiwork of a villain known as The Dark Bishop (Woo Do-Hwan). The Dark Bishop, who’s known for possessing people from afar and then murdering his hosts after exorcisms so they won’t talk, could clearly use someone as volatile as Yong-hoo on his side, but the young man hesitantly chooses to align himself with the priest when he discovers that his bleeding hand has demon killing abilities.
On paper, The Divine Fury sounds like an absolute blast, but writer-director Kim Joo-Hwan (who made the decent action thriller Midnight Runners a few years ago) wants to take his material mostly at face value. There’s plenty of style on display throughout The Divine Fury, especially whenever the action shifts to the villain’s John Wick-ian hideout, but very little action or fun. The examination of the relationship between the angry young man and the priest is meant to be taken seriously, with as few jokes and put downs as possible, forcing the leads to do some decent, low key work in a film that’s screaming for just a bit more zest and energy. For what it’s worth, Seo-joon and Sung-Ki have impeccable chemistry, and it’s a delight to watch them cut loose in the few scenes of the film that allow them such an opportunity, but this isn’t pitched at the level of a mismatched buddy picture like it probably should be. Joo-Hwan’s approach serves the horror elements of his film rather well, particularly during an extended exorcism where the priest is having his butt kicked all around an orphanage by a small child, but The Divine Fury also never feels terrifying enough to be taken seriously as a chiller or a reflection on lapsed faith. Sung-Ki has the standout role here as the villain, and he seems to be the only person Joo-Hwan is allowing to embrace the ridiculousness at the heart of the story. The devil has the most fun, indeed.
The Divine Fury isn’t the kind of film that it could be, but it’s always watchable thanks to the strength of its wildly original premise. It’s just a shame that The Divine Fury is a great idea in search of a much better movie.
The Divine Fury opens in Toronto at Empress Walk on Friday, August 16, 2019.
Check out the trailer for The Divine Fury:
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