Because of a psychologically traumatic childhood experience following the death of his father, undefeated mixed martial arts world champion Park Yong-hoo (Park Seo-joon) harbored a deep resentment against God. Every time he would see a crucifix, he would flare up in rage. One night after winning a fight, he suddenly had a disturbing nightmare which left a bleeding wound on the palm of his right hand when he woke up.
Because medical doctors could not help him about the mysterious wound, Park consulted a local blind shaman, who in turn referred him to a senior Catholic exorcist priest, Fr. Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki), currently in Seoul from the Vatican. After Park helped Ahn perform a tough exorcism rite on a powerfully possessed man, Fr. Ahn realized that Park's stigmata actually gave him the power to cast away demons.
Popular Koreanovela actor Park Seo-joon ("Hwarang," "What's Wrong with Secretary Kim") was a charismatic lead actor who held well in the action, horror, as well as the dramatic aspects his character Yong-hoo went through in this film, "The Divine Fury." He has matured much since his first feature film lead role as the foolish police trainee in "Midnight Runners" (2017, also by Kim Joo-hwan). Yes, there were scenes which were obviously put in there to delight and thrill his female fans. He looked good with his leather jacket, his sports car and his cool motorcycle. He was looked dapper and well-groomed even during his most brutal fights.
Ahn Sung-ki is a veteran actor in Korean cinema, with numerous acting awards won since the 1980s to the present. He gives an empathetic performance here as Fr. Ahn, giving the priest credibility as the Vatican-sanctioned exorcist, and the warmth to be the father figure that Park badly needed. With those harrowing exorcism scenes, this was a physically exhausting role for an actor in his late 60s, and Ahn was giving it his 100%.
Woo Do-hwan was immersed in Satanistic darkness for this role as Ji-shin, owner of a stylish club called Babylon, who was also the new Dark Bishop, the main conduit who brought the demon via the altar pool in the cellar. His lack of background or motive was glaring. Park Ji-hyun (as Soo-jin, a rich young woman who lived in a posh condo) and child actor Jung Ji-hoon (as Ho-seok, a bullied little boy in an orphanage run by nuns) figured in their respective imaginatively staged demonic possession sequences.
Choi Woo-shik makes a special appearance as Fr. Choi. This is interesting because Park Yong-hoo also made a special appearance in Choi's current film "Parasite." We see Choi first as the young exorcist apprentice who was scared out of his wits in his first case. However, we would see him again towards the end tending to an injured Fr. Ahn, and then again at a mid-credits scene which dropped a hint at a sequel entitled "The Green Exorcist" which will feature Fr. Choi.
I give props to writer-director Kim Joo-hwan for thinking up of an original plot for familiar subject matter like this. There had been numerous films about exorcism over the years from many countries all over the world, and I had seen many of them, particularly Hollywood and Filipino ones. Many still follow the style set by "The Exorcist" more than 40 years ago. The traditional Catholic exorcism elements of Latin prayers and holy water are also seen here.
But this latest Korean iteration managed to find and develop a different angle of depicting battles between man versus devil with more physical excitement. Of course, it still had that signature poignance we have come to expect in Korean films. It may feel a bit long at 129 minutes with a slow buildup at the start and stretched out middle act, but the sinister story and some eerie special effects will hold your attention.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."