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Divine Fury, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Gets around to punching demons in the face."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The hook for "The Divine Fury" is such a simple and obvious genre mash-up - the martial artist whose hands have been blessed/cursed in such a way that he can exorcise demons by punching them in the face - that it's kind of surprising that such a film doesn't hit theaters every other week. The reason, I suspect, is likely why this movie is only half as cool as it could be: Shooting fight scenes is complex and time-consuming compared to talking about demons, so the movie inevitably doesn't do as much of the good stuff as one might hope.

Things start out twenty years ago, when policeman Park Ji-Won (Lee Seung-Joon) is killed during a tragic stop by a driver who is something other than human. Park had been a devout Catholic, but his son Yong-Hu lashes out against the church. Twenty years later, he's a Mixed Martial Arts champion, but a voice in his head is making him more aggressive and he's staying to wake up covered in unexplained blood. A shaman recognizes that he's got a demon attached to him and refers him to Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-Ki), who recognizes stigmata on Yong-Hu's palms and enlists him to help fight the Black Bishop (Woo Do-Hwan), though Yong-Hu (Park Seo-Ju) just wants those things off his hands so he can live a normal life.

Exorcism stories don't have a lot of room for half measures in terms of ambition, to the point where it's sometimes better to be a shallow, pulpy work the doesn't make a whole lot of sense but delivers a lot of blood and spectacle than to grasp at more serious themes without fully connecting. That's an issue that filmmaker Kim Joo-Hwan never quite solves: There's a story here about Yong-Hu rediscovering his faith, but that's a different thing in a world where there are actual demons than one where you truly must take the supernatural on faith, and there's not a whole lot more that resonates, at least for Yong-Hu (Father Ahn is feeling kind of worm down). The Bishop and his brethren are fairly generic villains, as well.

There are comments on the background about Seoul's air pollution being seven times as bad as usual, but that serves more as a way to give the film a gloomy aesthetic rather than hammer home the idea that the forces of evil are primed to break through into the human world. It's a familiar shorthand that is never pushed hard enough to make the threat seem truly overwhelming or hint that Kim has a unique vision of this ancient battle between good and evil, at least most of the time. A teenage shaman who greets Yong-Hu with the sort of annoyance middle-schoolers often have for adults has a spark that the later shots that recall The Exorcist and slick black costumes never quite match.

At least, that is, until it's time to stop messing around and get to punching the evil out of people. The more casually practical Ahn gets compared to the expected solemnity, the more fun things get, and while the creepy kid is a staple of the genre, young actor Jung Ji-Hoon throws himself into it with enough abandon to make his scenes some of the movie's most frightening with a perverse pleasure coming from seeing how Yong-Hu does not really want to smack a kid around. And while big fight scenes are relatively infrequent, the eventual throwdown between Yong-Huand the Bishop is more or less everything the audience could want - excellently-choreographed, shot well enough to highlight the skill that Park Seo-Ju, Woo Do-Hwan, and/or their doubles bring, and feeling like nobody is ever holding back. You may have had to wait a while for the movie to dive all the way into someone punching the possession out of people, but Director Kim knows not to let audiences go home dissatisfied.

It's the sort of finale that makes the audience hope that there are more demons out there even if getting there wasn't all that they'd hoped. The credits promise a spin-off film, and maybe that will be fun, but it's more of the entertaining pairing of Ahn Sung-Ki and Park Seo-Ju that the audience will want, maybe beating the devil out of people in Rome or elsewhere.

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originally posted: 08/16/19 10:21:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Joo-hwan Kim

Written by
  Joo-hwan Kim

  Seo-joon Park
  Sung-Ki Ahn
  Do-Hwan Woo
  Eun-hyung Jo
  Seung-Joon Lee
  Woo-sik Choi

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