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[Herald Review] Hopes of cinematic universe may be too ambitious for ‘Divine Fury’

A cinematic universe is not something that has earnestly been tried in the Korean film industry, which makes Jason Kim’s attempt to start one via an occult film border on risky. Occult-themed flicks have rarely been major hits at the box office here.

So how does “The Divine Fury” – the supposed “Iron Man” of the crudely named “Holy Universe” -- measure up? While it has some good elements and can be fun from time to time, the unoriginal plot and concept, flat storyline and uninteresting characters do not really heighten expectations for the upcoming films.
“The Divine Fury” (Lotte Entertainment)
“The Divine Fury” (Lotte Entertainment)

Park Yong-hu (Park Seo-joon) is an MMA champion whose father’s untimely death in his youth has cost him his faith in religion and imbued him with cynicism. But when a scar of unknown origin mysteriously appears on his hand, he seeks advice from a Vatican-sent priest and exorcist, Father Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki).

After learning that the scar comes with a special power for fighting evil, Park and Ahn team up to find disciple of the devil Jisin (Woo Do-hwan), and eradicate the world of the maleficence he spreads.

It seems clear that rather than go the traditional route of occult films -- mysterious and creepy -- director Kim has opted for a more straightforward and easy-to-follow story, almost like a superhero film.

With fighting skills, an unrelenting will and dashing good looks, Park’s Park Yong-hu is basically a superhero.

Instead of elaborating on the lore and world of the occult, the movie simply sets up a good vs. evil structure. While this makes it easy for non-occultists to follow, it may spell trouble for fans of the occult. It’s not scary, not suspenseful and has no moments that put the audience on the edge of their seats.

The characters are hit and miss. Park as the main man appears rather stiff and uninteresting, although he has some good action scenes. It is more a problem of how he was written, rather than his acting choices.

Both Park and Ahn, as the leading duo, play to their strengths in creating believable chemistry and feeding off each other’s energy.

The priest as the father-replacement is a bit on the nose, but it works because it is Ahn. He is like Tom Hanks; he just has such a likeable and trustworthy face.

The villain is utterly unimpressive. Again, Woo’s acting is not terrible, but he simply lacks charisma or any intimidation factor.

Choi Woo-shik’s Father Choi also leaves very little impact, which is a bit shameful considering what the young actor had shown himself capable of in the masterful “Parasite.”

It is a somewhat fun, simple action flick, but it feels too familiar. It’s basically “Constantine” set in Korea, with a much less interesting protagonist. The occult superhero film has been done before, and done much better.

Another problem is that the world does not feel that huge or epic, and neither does the threat.

Overall, it is somewhere between OK and subpar. A cinematic universe could still work, but it would hang on the quality of the next film.

“The Divine Fury” opens in local theaters on July 31.

By Yoon Min-sik