The Exorcist is a horror classic, inspiring countless possession movies. For forty-six years, none of those toothless flicks has been brave enough to ask the question viewers have been asking all along: why didn’t Father Karras punch Pazuzu straight in the mouth? He was a boxer, wasn’t he? Director Joo-hwan Kim is brave enough to answer that question in The Divine Fury.
The film is about Yong-Hoo Park (Seo-joon Park, star of the amazing Parasite!!!), an undefeated mixed-martial arts welterweight champion nicknamed “The Grim Reaper.” The only thing he’s ever lost was his father at a young age. He pegged a priest in the face with a cross at the funeral. When he sees his opponent has a tattoo of Jesus on his back during the first fight in the film, a voice in Yong-Hoo’s head says, “Get revenge for Dad.” On his flight back to Korea, Yong-Hoo dreams of burning cross in his right hand and wakes with stigmata on his right hand. He exhausts medical explanations before turning to the Church.
Father Ahn (Sung-Ki Ahn) is an experienced exorcist, sent from the Vatican to Seoul to hunt for the Dark Bishop. He’s performing an exorcism in a run-down church when the possessed man breaks loose. Father Ahn’s partner turns tail. The possessed starts to beat Father Ahn when undefeated mixed-martial arts welterweight champion Yong-Hoo Park walks in and beats the everloving s*** out of the possessed. When Park grabs the possessed’s head with his right hand, the head bursts into a white, holy flame. His stigmata lights demons on fire. Can I get a hell yeah?
The Divine Fury is absolutely ridiculous, over-the-top in every way possible. It’s a mix of exorcism horror, mixed-martial arts, and surprisingly well-handled drama. Park is still mourning the loss of his father a decade earlier. He and Father Ahn develop a surrogate father-son relationship while debating their faith or lack thereof. Father Ahn does get preachy at times (“There’s a reason behind every sorrow and torment”), but it never gets to the point of being obnoxious because Park doesn’t fold. The film focuses on a developing friendship rather than an atheist being converted, which is a nice change for the possession genre. More than anything else, it’s a sweet movie between the fights.
Part of what helps the genres mix so well is the high-production quality. Every set is gorgeous. The special effects—including a flaming fist, an alligator monster, and a tower of arms in addition to the regular exorcism shtick—are all excellent. The fight choreography is up to that same, high level. Everything had to be right for a premise as absurd as The Divine Fury’s to work, and it delivered.
Joo-hwan Kim also makes a number of quality horror homages. There are call backs to The Birds, Argento’s Suspiria, and The Exorcist (obviously). The references work, because they aren’t the super obvious homages like naming the Texan with a chainsaw Tobe. Instead, Kim recycles great moments, because nothing good in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had to do with the director’s name. The meat hook still holds up to this day, though. To quote Picasso, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Despite all the references to horror’s history, the meld of genres makes The Divine Fury feel new. The exorcist in this film didn’t used to be a mixed-martial artist. He is one now. And his fist lights on fire. Don’t walk. Run to see this movie.
Wicked Rating – 9/10
Director: Joo-Hwan Kim
Writer: Joo-Hwan Kim
Stars: See-joon Park, Sung-Ki Ahn, Do-Hwan Woo
Release Date: November 19, 2019 (Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital)
Studio/Production Company: Lotte Entertainment
Run-Time: 129 minutes
Sub-genre: Possession, Martial Arts