AU ABROAD

Hello Asia! KOFFIA 2015 Film Review: The Divine Move (South Korea, 2014)

Ever heard of the game "Go"? It's a board game that originated in China and was popularised in the west in the late 19th century, played with black and white stones, strategic like chess and with the ultimate goal of surrounding your opponent. They call it "baduk" in Korea, and I'd never heard of it until KOFFIA put this film on my radar. It looks innocent enough, until you've seen The Divine Move. Now I will forever associate this innocuous game with violence, bloodshed and revenge.

Korea's film industry does gangster flicks like nobody's business, and though senseless killing and crime lord politics is not usually my cup of tea, come KOFFIA time I find myself returning year after year for films gritter, darker and bloodier than anything I'd watch otherwise.

The Divine Move is the story of professional baduk player Tae-Seok (Jung Woo-Sung), who winds up wrongfully imprisoned for his brother's murder after losing a high-stakes game to a dangerous underground gambler called Sal-Soo (Lee Beom-Soo). He spends his seven year gaol sentence learning to fight and honing his baduk skills, and upon his release begins gathering master players to help him get revenge on Sal-Soo and his men for their cruelty.

If violence and gore make you squeamish this may not be the film for you - it is abundant in The Divine Move. These characters are the kind of men who will beat a man to within an inch of his life, slit his throat and walk away laughing, as long as there's cash in it for them - but if you're into crime, fantastically choreographed fight scenes and the psychological thrill of a high stakes game, you will definitely get a kick out of this film.

The movie visually reflects its themes very well - grainy filmic textures, cold tones, shakey handheld camera work and extreme closeups keep the action right in your face, especially during fast-paced baduk scenes while players make important split-second decisions, and brutal fight scenes while Tae-Seok finds justice and closure in the chilling murder of his past foes - in some cases literally. Chilling, in a freezer.

Each act of the movie is named for a different move in a game of baduk - likening the film overall to the progression of a dangerous game as Tae-Seok and his team moves in, surrounds his enemies and plays to win.

The cast list was varied and stellar - veteran actors Ahn Sung-Ki and Ahn Kil-Kang, KOFFIA familiar face Kim In-Kwon and K-drama favourites Choi Jin-Hyuk and Lee Si-Young all brought their expertise and skill. Choi Jun-Hyuk especially did a fantastic job in a dark and heartless role, after having only ever seen him portray boy-next-door K-drama types, and the charming Ahn Sung-Ki as the old man "Drinking Jesus", a baduk pro despite his blindness, was one of the more warm-hearted and likeable characters.

The soundtrack was an excellent and crunchy mix of 70s funk-jazz fusion sounds, typical of a vintage gangster flick but also fitting for the suit-sporting, slicked-haired, devil-may-care characters and perfect for the film's more lighthearted or triumphant scenes. These sounds are contrasted against low brass, hectic percussion and tremelo strings for the fight sequences and dark moments, and along with quick cuts, keep the action sharp and compelling.

Though I won't be queueing up to watch this film again soon, it was a great piece of action cinema and deserved its place on KOFFIA's 2015 lineup. A must for lovers of gangsters, blood and gambling flicks.

Review score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 118 minutes (w/English Subtitles)

The Divine Move screens at KOFFIA in Melbourne on the 3rd of September and Canberra on 6th September.

KOFFIA continues in Melbourne from September 3 – 10, Canberra on September 5 and 6, Perth from September 17-20 and Adelaide from September 24 to 27.

For more information, the complete film program and tickets visit http://koffia.com.au