Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful

Go might look like a board game, but it can be a full-contact sport in Korea. It has a lot to do with the wagering. Sometimes the stakes are even life and death. That suits a mysterious young Go prodigy just fine. He intends to serve up some revenge as cold and hard as Go stones in Lee Khan’s “spin-off” sequel, The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful, which opens this Friday in New York.

Young Gui-su showed an early aptitude for Go and an early thirst for vengeance after Go master Hwang Duk-yong takes advantage of his naïve older sister, driving her to suicide. All alone in the world, Gui-su has the mostly good fortune to fall in with Hur Il-do, a Go teacher and hustler, somewhat like Fast Eddie Felsen in The Color of Money. They start making the rounds, but the thuggish Busan Weed turns out to be a very poor loser. That leads to more grievances for Gui-su to settle later.

After several years of secluded study, the twentysomething Gui-su emerges for his payback. The main event will be Hwang, but Gui-su will warm up on everyone who ever wronged Hur. He will also make a little money in the process with the help of “Mr. Turd,” his bankroller and comic relief. Meanwhile, the mysterious “Loner” stalks Gui-su, hoping to extract his own vengeance for sins Gui-su committed with Hur.

In a way, The Divine Move franchise is like the Tazza series for the game of Go, right down to the supposedly-in-the-same-world-but-really-only-thematically-related sequels. The Wrathful is also like the latest Tazza film in that it is surprisingly violent and hard-bitten, especially for a film revolving around such a cerebral game. Regardless, it is as gripping as a shark bite and nearly as lethal.

As Gui-su, Kwon Sang-woo broods like a champion. He is quiet on the outside, but violent on the inside. At times, you can almost see the steam coming out of his ears. He is backed by quite a colorful supporting cast, especially Heo Sung-tae and Won Hyun-joon, who inhale the scenery as Hur’s old rivals, Busan Weed and the sinister “Shaman.”

In some ways, Divine 2 is a bit predictable, because it follows the general narrative path of underdog sports movies. However, Lee plays up the action and thriller elements, including more than one literal game to the death. It all makes for quite a breakneck ride. Frankly, this is another fine example of the Korean film industry’s continuing comparative advantage in the action and suspense genres. Highly recommended for fans of gambling and payback thrillers, The Divine Move 2: The Wrathful opens this Friday (11/22) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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