At first we simply watch young Gwi-soo (played by Park Sang-hoon-IV) go through a perverse and violent tragic story, eventually escaping to Seoul and undergoing bizarre monastic training for the sake of becoming a master of Baduk (Go) to obtain revenge. Yes, that's right, the board game played with black and white stones. Like "The Divine Move", "The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful" take a generally preposterous premise and plays it with the utmost sincerity.
AdvertisementWhere "The Divine Move" bordered on self-parody with its absurd metaphors for Baduk as masculinity, "The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful" is sincere. Director Khan Lee depicts a surreal underworld where shamans, gangsters, and community leaders are obsessed with Baduk to the point that they're willing to risk death and dismemberment just to avoid acknowledging they might be less skilled than other players. As weird as this idea sounds in the abstract, in practice it's actually quite convincing.
The major reason for this is the movie's cinematography. So many of the shots here are of a calibre you'd expect to see in a film studies class. The dark, creepy lighting and the varied destructive backdrops communicate quite a bit about the psychosis of Gwi-soo and his various opponents who place more of their self-worth in the value of a board game than seems rational. All these people are insane, their obsession with Baduk a representation of their inability to find satisfaction in living normal lives.
One strangely erotic scene manages to highlight this by just being convincingly romantic. Two relatively emotionally healthy identify with Baduk as give and take, a way of understanding each other. As the adult Gwi-soo (played by Kwon Sang-woo) faces down new opponents one by one in decreasingly grim locations, we see him coming to term with monsters. Some are redeemable, or at least useful, while others can only accept the grim escape of death and human mortality.
Decreasing is not a typo by the way. A big part of what makes "The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful" so fascinating is that while the movie is frontloaded in terms of its setpieces, this is mainly symbolic of how Gwi-soo is coming across more superficially respectable opponents. As Gwi-soo's mentor Il-do (played by Kim Sung-kyun) explains it, everybody they fight in the game of Baduk is evil. It's just a matter of degree regarding who has been corrupted how much by what.
For an action crime film that just so happens to be centered around a board game this is surprisingly dark broad spectrum morality about the nature of human sinfulness. This is also forshadowed by Gwi-soo's mystical training for earthly purposes that ultimately has to be supplemented by hardcore physical training as well. There are a lot of layers here, right down to the layout of the Baduk boards, with surprisingly specific thematic messages.
"The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful" has a lot of faith in its audience to catch the minor details. Although, conceivably, director Khan Lee may just be as insane and demented as the dramatis personae in the script. Either way, "The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful" is brilliant.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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