Midnight Runners‘ director, Kim Joo-hwan returns with a new blockbuster that reunites him with the Runners’ star, Park Seo-joon. Combining the corniest elements of exorcism horror and comical action-hero tropes, The Divine Fury is a gothic action fantasy which immediately reminds us of Constantine minus the angelic apparitions. From spiritual imagery of Catholicism, priests chanting prayers in Latin to expel demons, to fistfight against demon-possessed people, you are up for an action-packed ride full of blood, holy waters and… campiness, nevertheless.
The Divine Fury seems to seam unlikely components into one helluva narrative drive. The story roots on an enticingly crafted mythos of the Dark Bishop, a worshipper of the evil Holy Serpent. Dark Bishop corrupts problematic people and makes them hosts to eponymous demons before sacrificing their souls. In opposition to such a malignant force, a senior priest, Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki), lands to Seoul from the Vatican to exorcist the Dark Bishop’s minions. On his holy mission, Father Ahn encounters an MMA fighter, Yong-hu (Seo-joon), who mysteriously gets stigmata on his palm. Yong-hu resents God for abandoning him when his cop father died fighting crimes; however, Father Ahn sees something in him and he’s willing to make an unlikely alliance with him fighting off diabolical powers in the town.
The Divine Fury, however, is never scary or nerving in its horror department. The horror is limited to inhumane behaviors of the possessed people maniacally screaming and laughing if not defying physics. Director Joo-hwan manages to make all exorcism scenes disturbing with the amplified noise. Interestingly, The Divine Fury—albeit portrays Catholicism elements—takes parallel similarities to classic Hong Kong exorcism fantasy, in Jiangshi movies usually led by Lam Ching Ying or Sammo Hung. There will be a parade of sacred spells, relics, and instruments to expel the demons. Yet, the real deal is the martial actions that follow.
With Seo-joon injecting some zesty action-hero persona, The Divine Fury combines horror elements rooting back to The Exorcist (1973) or Stigmata (1999) with action set-pieces spiced with fantasy elements. At least, the first half of the movie shows promising build-ups, introducing the good, the bad, and the alliance between the good guys (involving Seo-Joon, Sung-ki and Parasite‘s Choi Woo-sik as Father Choi, Father Ahn’s exorcism mentee). After some time, the plot becomes monotonous as Father Ahn and Yong-hoo go from one exorcist to another with similar stakes and methods.
The further the plot goes, the more the character’s backstories become irrelevant. Yong-hoo’s backstories serve nothing but a deus-ex-machina device for the third act. At times, The Divine Fury delivers sentimental moment as Yong-hoo starts to see a fatherly figure in Father Ahn. They will share intimate dialogues about the divine plan and love. Similar to Midnight Runners, Joo-hwan highlights the chemistry between the two leads; however, the bond between them is rather instant in this story.
Between the horror of exorcism and the action-hero tropes, The Divine Fury takes the gothic campiness too seriously, believes it as a credo. The movie never gets to be preachy about being religious or anything since its main goal is to provide a guilty pleasure entertainment. Even when the story becomes too repetitive, but it had its moment. At the end of the movie, they promise a spin-off about Choi Woo-sik’s Father Choi in upcoming horror titled The Green Exorcist. If the two movies should be related, let’s hope that the movie will stick to the characters more than The Divine Fury sticks to the spectacles.