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Lee Jung Jae (Actor) | Lee Jae In (Actor) | Yoo Ji Tae (Actor) | Lee David (Actor)
This professional review refers to Svaha: The Sixth Finger (2DVD) (Korea Version)
It's no surprise that the makers of Svaha: The Sixth Finger got into trouble with Korean religious groups. After all, a film that features a hero whose mission is to expose religious cults in a country where, as one character says, "freedom of religion is overly protected" is bound to rile a few people.
But Svaha isn't a provocative take on religious canon like Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Instead, director Jang Jae Hyun's follow-up to The Priests shares more in common with horror-tinged supernatural thrillers like Constantine or The X-Files. Part detective procedural and part occult thriller, this stylish and smartly crafted film may very well provide star Lee Jung Jae with a new blockbuster franchise.
Lee stars as Pastor Park, an investigator who makes money from major religious groups by uncovering information on pseudo-religious groups of dubious integrity. However, the white collar around Park's neck doesn't mean that the man is above chain-smoking, flaunting his material wealth (he drives around in a BMW) or making shameless pleas for donations at college lectures.
Park's intuition leads him to Deer Hill, an organization that appears to be a charity organization at first glance. However, a deep dive into its scriptures reveals far more sinister intentions. Cue densely packed expository scenes of characters sorting through conspiracy theories and religious scriptures.
Jang's ambitious script doesn't stop there, throwing in two other plot strands that run concurrently to Park's investigation: There's the story of Geum Hwa, a teenage girl in a rural village whose twin sister has been locked in a shed because she's purportedly possessed by a demon. And there's also Na Han, a young man who's committed a string of killings for a mysterious figure with grand aspirations. The first hour may confuse some as Jang constantly jumps from one story to another with little hint of their connection, but the three stories finally converge to intriguing effect in the second half when a major star who shan't be named finally appears.
Both The Priests and Jang-scripted thriller House of the Disappeared touch on the link between religion and the paranormal, but Svaha is Jang's most thoughtful take on the subject. Like The Priests, the film deconstructs and examines the traditional definitions of good and evil. What does it mean to commit a heinous deed in the name of defeating evil? Is Pastor Park an honorable character even with his various vices? Svaha is a strong companion piece to Na Hong Jin's The Wailing, which also deals with Korean shamanism and fear of the occult.
Armed with a bigger budget than his previous film, the writer-director serves up an accomplished thriller with impressive directorial touches that pushes the creepiness factor (Kim Tae Seong's atmospheric score also deserves part of the credit for that). Park's scenes with his office assistant, his young investigative associate and a monk (played by Extreme Job breakout star Jin Seon Kyu) also offer healthy doses of humor that bring welcome relief to the story's weighty themes.
While Svaha didn't reach the box office heights of The Priests, it did achieve moderate success at the Korean box office and out-grossed 2019's other big-budget paranormal franchise starter, The Divine Fury. If Lee and the rest of the cast decide to commit to another cult-busting adventure in spite of the trouble they stirred up, count me in.
by Kevin Ma
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