There is nothing subtle or graceful about ‘The Divine Fury.’ It is an in-your-face, supernatural action and horror film that attempts to navigate the complex themes of faith, but it does so in such a hard-fisted way that gives the impression that it is more invested in making its lead star, Park Seo-joon, cool than it is in telling an engaging story.
Everything about ‘The Divine Fury’ revolves around the character of Yong-hoo and his anger towards God for not granting his prayers. From the first few minutes of the film when he is a child, there’s a discussion with his devout policeman father about why prayer did not save his mother’s life. When his father dies on duty, Yong-hoo prays and prays but he still loses his father, which sends him on a road to pain and grief.
Twenty years later, he is now an internationally renowned Mixed Martial Arts champion and plagued with demons until he begins to show signs of the stigmata. His search leads him to an experienced exorcists of the Catholic church and he begins his journey into battling real demons in Seoul.
The movie is all plot as it brings Yong-hoo from moment to moment where he can wrestle with his faith and tell us how much he is angry with God for not answering any of his prayers. There’s no real world that is actively affecting him except for this story about how he has received the stigmata and that it's “God’s plan” that he would have this gift.
There’s no sense of a lived-in world. He has no friends, no social life that affects his other decisions and every person in this movie is somehow related to this sudden demon infestation in Korea. Even Yong-hoo’s reactions to his discovery of his divine gifts is received with very little fanfare.
Sent to a church by a shaman, Yong-hoo finds the exorcist, Father Ahn, battling a demon and even when the demon begins exhibiting demonic traits and climbing walls backwards, Yong-hoo isn’t at all shocked or surprised. When he lays his hands, smeared with blood from the wounds of the stigmata, the demon bursts into flames and there is very little reaction. He turns to Father Ahn afterwards and calmly says, “What is this?” As if demon slaying is a natural thing.
Because of the heavy-handedness of the script, I can’t even measure the quality of the performances. Lead star Park Seo-joon plays Yong-hoo in one note as he is written as stoic and angry; there’s a one-dimensional quality to him. Father Ahn, played by Ahn Sung-Ki, is the old, kind, and understanding mentor and there is very little else. Since the whole world revolves around demons and faith, there’s no way to properly gauge these characters' true nature because we never see them operate outside the plot.
There is one beautiful moment when Yong-hoo and Father Ahn share a beer after an exorcism where the narrative gets deeper into their characters -- a lovely moment that humanizes these characters and gives Park Seo-joon and Ahn Sung-Ki a chance to show their range, but it’s one scene.
The one who gets to have an enjoyable time is Woo Do-Hwan, who plays the Dark Bishop. As villains go, I’m affording him the chance to just play up evil and there is a guile and cunningness to his performance that makes him seductive and unpredictable. Except, like everything in the movie, it’s also a one-dimensional character and, for some reason, there’s no real explanation as to why he does what he does. There’s no clear motivation -- he is evil for evil’s sake.
There’s a lot of empty platitudes in ‘The Divine Fury’ that makes it feel lightweight and shallow. I feel there is more emphasis on making Yong-hoo cool, almost like a divine superhero, crossing out items of a checklist to establish his backstory. It makes perfect sense too since the ending reveals that there is a second movie on its way, with the announcement that a character will return in another film.
If anything, ‘Divine Fury’ is more interested in the genre conventions and the imagery of coolness hoping to push a franchise series based on faith and the battling of demons. But without the heart, I’m not entirely sure it would be as engaging as they would hope.