An Excavation Investigation: Exhuma Unleashes a Box Office Juggernaut

by KoreanCinephile

May 6, 2024, 6:51 p.m.


“Exhuma,” South Korea’s biggest hit of 2024 so far, continues its record-breaking box office run. Jang Jae-hyun’s supernatural horror story about a shaman and her protégé captivates Korean and international audiences alike, signaling a new era for Asian cinema.

A month after its release, South Korea’s horror phenomenon “Exhuma” (known locally as “Pamyo,” meaning “exhumation for relocation or cremation”) continues to dominate the box office, solidifying its position as 2024’s highest-grossing Korean film. Directed by Jang Jae-hyun, this supernatural thriller has rapidly overtaken Hollywood blockbusters like “Wonka” and “Dune: Part Two,” drawing Korean audiences with its spine-tingling tale of a shaman named Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) and her protégé Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun).

In just a week, “Exhuma” dethroned “Wonka,” starring Timothée Chalamet, and went on to outperform “Dune: Part Two,” which held second place for three straight weekends. With a remarkable $67 million in revenue and over 9 million tickets sold, “Exhuma” is poised to shatter box office records set by South Korea’s most successful films.

A Cult Classic in the Making

Jang Jae-hyun’s expertise in occult storytelling almost preordained the success of “Exhuma.” The film revolves around shaman Hwa-rim (Kim Go-eun) and her assistant Bong-gil (Lee Do-hyun) as they strive to protect a Korean American family’s baby from a generational curse. The exhumation rituals are portrayed through thunderous prayers and intricate singing, brought to life by Jang’s keen eye for detail. Featuring “Oldboy” star Choi Min-sik and newcomer Lee Do-hyun, “Exhuma” delivers eerie, mesmerizing rituals that captivate audiences.

While “Exhuma” resonates deeply with Korean viewers due to its focus on local burial customs and spiritual beliefs, the film also attracts international audiences with its universal themes of horror and spirituality. Jang’s exploration of shamanistic rituals rooted in Korean culture blends seamlessly with a gripping narrative that crosses borders.

Breaking Records and Barriers

The film’s rapid box office rise signals a shift in the global perception of Asian cinema. Selling over 9.3 million tickets in just four weeks, “Exhuma” broke the nine million admissions mark four days faster than last year’s top-grossing Korean film, “12.12: The Day.” Now, it’s set to surpass several of Bong Joon Ho’s iconic hits, including “Snowpiercer,” “Parasite,” and “The Host.”

Internationally, “Exhuma” is setting new records in Asian markets like Vietnam and Indonesia, where it has already become the highest-grossing Korean film ever. After grossing $65,000 across three screens in Los Angeles in just one week, Jang’s latest feature seems poised to conquer North America next.

A New Era of Korean Horror

Jang Jae-hyun’s third feature dives into a uniquely Korean spiritual realm where various faiths blend, creating an evocative exploration of the supernatural. With meticulously crafted rituals and rich cultural references, “Exhuma” taps into Korea’s fascination with horror and the occult.

Jang is no stranger to the genre; his earlier films “The Priests” and “Svaha: The Sixth Finger” explored the occult, but neither achieved the same heights as “Exhuma.” The film benefits from a stellar cast, including Choi Min-sik, Kim Go-eun, and Lee Do-hyun, whose combined star power has drawn viewers both domestically and abroad.

Cross-Cultural Horror Success

Horror movies have proven to be consistent box office draws, and South Korea has repeatedly delivered global hits like “Train to Busan” and “A Tale of Two Sisters.” “Exhuma” rides this wave, tapping into a renewed appetite for international cinema in the West.

Despite averaging 71% on Rotten Tomatoes based on just seven critic reviews, the film holds a solid 89% user rating with an average of 4.5 out of 5. Positive word-of-mouth is fueling its rise as genre enthusiasts worldwide are eager to see how Jang’s unique take on the supernatural translates to the big screen.

Final Thoughts

“Exhuma” embodies the intersection of local and global horror, bringing uniquely Korean spiritual beliefs to life in a way that resonates with international audiences. By blending universal horror tropes with a fascinating exploration of Korean spirituality, Jang Jae-hyun’s third feature has unearthed a story that’s both captivating and terrifying.

Tags: Kfilm , movie

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