A new Korean action classic revolving around GO?

Go is an ancient Chinese board game that continues to be popular in most Asian countries. Much as chess holds a very important position in Western culture for its deep strategy and required intelligence, Go is revered for its complexity and subtle strategies in Asia. The Divine Move is a Korean action thriller about a professional Go player that avenges the death of his brother after spending years in prison. Finely crafted by director Cho Beom-gu from an intelligent script, the surprisingly brutal film features convincing action in a smart package. Starring Jung Woo-sung, Lee Beom-soo and Choi Jin-hyuk, The Divine Move is a captivating ride from beginning to end.

Tae-seok (Jung Woo-sung) is a professional Go player. His brother is involved in the seedy gambling underground run by criminals. Tae-seok’s brother is murdered when he gambles his life away in a high-stakes game of Go to ‘Killer,’ a notorious gambler and deadly criminal. Tae-seok is wrongfully accused of his brother’s murder and sent away to prison for several years. A meek, almost nerdy man, Tae-seok becomes friendly with a crime boss in prison that trains him how to fight in exchange for sharing his Go knowledge and skills. Tae-seok is eventually released from prison having become a different man, now he is as deadly with his hands as he is skilled in Go. That sounds like a goofy premise but The Divine Move thoroughly makes his transition seem believable.

Tae-seok assembles a team of master Go players in the hopes he can get close enough to take down Killer and avenge his brother’s death. A mysterious man he met in prison told Tae-seok to seek out a man that goes by the name of Drinking Jesus, a blind Go master practically living on the streets. The motley crew assembled by Tae-seok includes men named Carpenter and Tricks, each useful to his plan in some way. The colorful names are aliases; even Tae-seok goes by Big Move. They hope to infiltrate Killer’s underground Go gambling ring and penetrate his inner circle.

The highly developed story has a colorful cast of characters in the best tradition of crime films like Reservoir Dogs

Nothing ever comes that easy and things get complicated by Killer’s own associates, including an unbeatable child prodigy and Navel. A former Go world champion, Navel (her name is a Go term) is forced to do Killer’s bidding against her will. Tae-seok takes an interest in the beautiful Navel, attempting to charm her away from Killer. Everything leads to a dramatic game of Go between Killer and Tae-seok with deadly consequences.

Don’t worry that much if you aren’t familiar with Go or its rules. The Divine Move is an enjoyable action movie, first and foremost. None of the plot really hinges on understanding the intricate game, though I imagine that knowledge might help add something extra to its nuances. Actor Jung Woo-sung is impressive in this role of Tae-seok as both action star and intimidating mental force. The stylish action does take an occasional flight of fancy, especially in a final act that goes over the top with its cartoonish violence. The culmination of its interlocking threads ends on an overly happy note. The Korean film takes a small step back when it goes for the optimistic Hollywood ending.

Expect brutal, intense action in The Divine Move. The highly developed story has a colorful cast of characters in the best tradition of crime films like Reservoir Dogs, adding slick storytelling to the mix. This is the kind of film I could see being adapted by Hollywood for a global audience. It’s the rare action movie with a thoughtful and memorable story.

Movie ★★★★★

3D! @ 32:46

The Blu-ray comes from distributor CJ Entertainment, not a household name in home video circles. The video quality is fairly nice at times but maddeningly inconsistent in a few select scenes. Like many other films made for Asian markets, the color grading is not quite as sophisticated or polished as Hollywood fare. Black levels are occasionally affected by blown-out highlights.

The main feature runs 118 minutes on a BD-50. Presented at 1080p resolution with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it is encoded in AVC at a very healthy 29.98 Mbps figure. Minor contrast issues and overly bright gamma levels subtract from the relatively sharp, crisp definition. The 2014 movie doesn’t have the most detailed digital cinematography except in its tightest shots. What The Divine Move’s video does have is excellent clarity in its thoughtfully composed scope aspect ratio.

Fleeting chroma noise and some unusual ISO noise are apparent in a few darker shots. The AVC video encode has fairly high parameters but still fails in a couple of obvious moments. There is one scene that produces some of the most unusual artifacts I have ever seen on Blu-ray. A fight inside a cold locker has a heavy blue push to its palette that leads to the distinctive visual problem. With some reservations I am giving this video four stars for its rating. A couple of poor minutes should not significantly alter an entire film’s video rating.

This is not a reference presentation of The Divine Move due to those fleeting erratic moments but the picture quality is still satisfactory most of the time. Much of it looks wonderful so this is a case of taking the good with the bad.

Video ★★★★☆

If there is one disappointment with this Blu-ray, it’s the lack of lossless audio. The Korean film gets both its native Korean soundtrack and English dub in lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital at 448 kbps. This is a fairly active, energetic action soundtrack with bone-crunching sounds flying from every speaker. The loss in fidelity from the Dolby Digital options are palpable, reminding one of DVD. There is nothing technically wrong with the mix, I simply believe it would have been able to deliver more bass and sweep in lossless fidelity. The score is made for an action film through and through. The Divine Move sounds fairly generic in that regard.

I strongly urge viewers to go with the native Korean soundtrack. The English dub makes some unusual casting choices for each role, it’s not particularly effective and almost feels like a parody recalling older kung fu English dubs.

English subtitles display in a white font within the scope framing at all times.

Audio ★★★☆☆

A brief featurette is just about the only special feature, along with a slew of teaser trailers. CJ Entertainment does provide a handsome, embossed slipcover. They are exclusive to the Blu-ray edition.

Making of The Divine Move (04:12 in HD) – The cast are featured in brief interviews about their roles and this film. Everything is in Korean but English subs are provided. A cursory puff piece that feels like promotional material.


No Tears For the Dead (00:32 in HD), The Divine Move (00:31 in HD), Friend II: The Legacy (00:32 in HD), The Admiral: Roaring Currents (00:32 in HD)

Extras ★☆☆☆☆


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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