‘Exhuma’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Did Sang-Deok Defeat The Samurai Demon?

Exhuma almost feels like watching two movies; one of them is grounded horror, which almost works like an investigative thriller. The other one is where our four heroes—shaman Hwa-Rim, her prodigy Bong Gil, geomancer cum feng-shui expert Sang-deok, and mortician Young-geun—try to contain the samurai demon that often turns into a vicious fireball. Jang Jae-hyun’s latest work relies a lot on both history and mythology, and unless you’re well-versed in the basics of Japan’s occupation of Korea as well as the five elements of Taoism, you might find yourself lost at sea initially. However, Exhuma still works as a satisfying horror experience, albeit a bit uneven if we go by the tone. At times it feels a bit information dense (quite unnecessarily, to be honest), but the stellar cast led by the legendary Choi Min-sik (who plays Sang-deok) pretty much makes up for it. In this article, we’re going to try to simplify Exhuma as much as possible.


Spoilers Ahead

What Is The Film About?

It’s not every day you hire a shaman to treat your newborn son’s mysterious illness, especially when you’re wealthy enough to have the best doctors in the world at your doorstep. But Park Ji-Yong clearly has no other choice. Ever since his son was born, the baby has been wailing non-stop, and there hasn’t been any diagnosis. However, it doesn’t take much time for Shaman Hwa-Rim to detect the problem. And it appears to be quite serious—”grave calling,” which basically means the baby is being haunted by the ghost of his father’s grandfather. The same ghost has previously haunted Mr. Park and his (now dead) brother in the past, and now it has moved on to the new generation. There’s a solution, though, which is excavating the grave and burying the body elsewhere. Upon realizing this is something she and her prodigy Bong Gil can’t handle alone, Hwa-Rim brings two other experts into the fold: geomancer Sang-deok and mortician Young-geun. But when Sang-deok senses evil energy around the location of the grave, which happens to be on the top of the mountains, very close to the North Korean border, he refuses to take the job. However, after strong persuasion by Mr. Park, the geomancer agrees to do it for the sake of the baby. It also helps that Sang-deok is in need of some financial assistance, with his daughter’s wedding around the corner. To make sure the excavation doesn’t run into any trouble, Hwa-Rim decides to do a “gut” ritual at the same time as the procedure.


Do Things Go As Per The Plan?

Thanks to Hwa-Rim impeccably performing the “gut” ritual, with the help of Bong Gil, the excavation goes without much trouble. However, one of the workers beheads a snake with a very human-looking head in the grave (which will eventually cause a lot of problems for our heroes). On the way to the new burial site, the whole party gets interrupted by rain, and as Sang-deok considers burying someone while it’s raining a bad omen, Young-geun takes the coffin to a nearby hospital. Unfortunately, Young-geun’s acquaintance gets greedy after seeing the coffin and tries to open it. Although Hwa-Rim and Bong Gil catch the guy in the act, it’s already too late, and the spirit of the vengeful grandpa gets out in the open. In fact, Hwa-Rim feels the powerful impact right after it happens. 

Young-geun, Hwa-Rim, and Bong Gil try their best to catch the spirit and contain it, but they fail to do so. The ghost possesses Bong Gil and lets them know that he has been deeply unhappy for all this time and is now coming for his family. As promised, he soon takes the lives of his crippled son and daughter-in-law (Mr. Park’s parents). The next target is Mr. Park himself, and despite Sang-deok reaching his hotel room, Mr. Park is taken by his vengeful grandfather. One interesting thing here is grandpa’s ghost starts eating like a maniac before killing Mr. Park’s parents, and then Mr. Park (in a possessed state) chugging bottles of water, proving how hungry and thirsty the ghost grandpa has been. Before snapping his grandson’s neck, the ghost grandpa tells Sang-deok about a fox cutting the waist of a tiger. But the immediate job at hand for Sang-deok is to save the life of the newborn baby. Thanks to Mr. Park’s aunt (who was against the excavation) giving permission to burn the coffin, the baby was saved in the nick of time. 


What further trouble arises?

Just when you think things are back to normal with ghost grandpa gone for good, much bigger trouble befalls our heroes. Remember the worker who accidentally chopped off the head of the strange snake? He falls extremely sick and starts getting haunted by a terrifying spirit. Upon hearing the news, Sang-deok goes to visit the grave again and finds the most astonishing thing: another coffin, a much larger one than usual, buried deep underground. Clearly, Grandpa’s coffin was concealing this one. A coffin of such size and so ancient-looking can never be a good thing, so Sang-deok decides to take it to the nearby Boguska temple, of course, with the help of Hwa-Rim, Bong Gil, and Young-geun.

Let us backtrack here for a little bit. This is not the first time Sang-deok has visited the Boguska temple. Earlier in the film, when grandfather Park’s coffin was being transported, he visited the temple and met this monk, who knew quite a bit about the grave at the mountain top and the history of it. Apparently, robbers used to come to loot the grave based on the rumors that there were a lot of treasurers. They even used to stash their equipment at the Boguska temple, which the monk showed to Sang-deok. Only later do we learn that these robbers were not robbers at all, but a group of Korean people known as “The Iron Blood Alliance.” What were they really doing? They were fighting a battle with evil to keep their country protected.


How did the fox cut off the waist of the tiger? 

When Sang-deok asked Mr. Park about the strange location of his grandfather’s grave—at the top of the mountain, a place that’s riddled with foxes (we saw), which is considered a bad thing for burial sites—Mr. Park told him that a monk named Gisune suggested that site. Well, Gisune was no monk after all. The word originated from the Japanese word “Kitsune,” which roughly means a fox-like creature with mythical abilities. Throughout the film, we see a mysterious man appearing in bits and pieces in a flashback—there’s even a picture of him with Mr. Park’s grandfather. The Park family was holding on to one ugly secret: the grandfather actually happened to be a Japanese loyalist during the time when the Korean peninsula was occupied by Japan. This obviously makes Grandfather Park a traitor, but what doesn’t make sense is why Gisune would order a loyalist to be buried in such a terrible location. Exhuma obviously reveals the answer in a sensational manner: grandfather Park’s coffin was only put there to guard the other coffin.

What was in the other coffin? A Japanese samurai turned into a vicious demon by none other than Gisune. It’s a no-brainer that Gisune was a mythical being who did everything he could to hurt Korea. It is said that iron rods used to be impaled around the mountain region of Korea by the Japanese to disrupt and take away the free-flowing feng shui energy and effectively harm Korea. Considering all this, no wonder the ghost of Grandfather Park was in a place of extreme agony for a whole century. Coming back to the question I raised in this subhead, the fox cutting off the tiger’s waist implies Gisune putting an iron stake (inside the Samurai ghost) around the Korean mountain region. Gisune is obviously the “fox” here, and the Korean peninsula land just happens to look like a tiger. It’s the tiger’s waist where Gisune strikes with his iron rod.


How do Sang-deok and co. defeat the Samurai demon?

Let us look into the matter of how the Samurai demon got out of the grave in the first place. In Exhuma, Korean feng shui plays a pivotal role. Hwa-Rim speaks about the effectiveness of the five elements of Taoism: earth, fire, water, metal, and wood. The human-headed snake that got killed by the worker symbolizes “water.” The ground is “earth,” the coffin is made of “wood,” and inside of it there is “fire” (we do see what the demon does) and “metal” (the iron katana). With grandfather Park’s coffin not being there anymore and the snake being killed (a clear disruption), it was only a matter of time till the Samurai demon got out and wreaked havoc. Sang-deok was very much right about burning the coffin, but before he can do it, the demon gets out of the coffin. Hwa-Rim’s attempt to contain it with the use of horse blood (pretty much like kryptonite to the demon) and glutinous rice goes in vain. The Samurai demon takes no time to kill the monk of Boguska temple, a barn worker, and then possess Bong Gil, who bravely (or maybe it was rather stupid) attempted to fight the supernatural creature. Then he leaves by turning himself into an orb of fire, leaving Hwa-Rim, Young-geun, and Sang-deok shocked and traumatized.

But with this thing out in the open and Bong Gil lying in a hospital bed (still under the possession of the Samurai), Sang-deok and the other two couldn’t just sit around. So they come up with the nearly impossible plan of distracting the demon and destroying the iron stake after digging deep into the grave. Noticing the demon not attacking Bong Gil at the part of his body where a specific tattoo is inscribed—of five hundred year old Buddhist writing—Hwa-Rim, Sang-deok, and Young-geun cover their whole body (including the face) with the same inscription. Upon reaching the grave, Hwa-Rim performs a ritual to lure the Samurai demon out of the grave. She uses sweet fish, remembering that was the thing the Samurai asked for when she first encountered it at the Boguska temple. With the Samurai out of the way, Sang-deok starts digging the grave frantically in search of the iron stake. But even after digging a whole lot of ground, he’s unable to find it. 


While Hwa-Rim’s ritual, where she projects herself as a ghost to deceive the demon, initially works, the spell eventually wears off. But as the Samurai demon is about to attack Hwa-Rim, the ghost of an old woman (who I assumed to be her grandmother and also a powerful shaman, as mentioned by her) protects her. Enraged, the demon turns into an orb of fire yet again and falls on the grave, where Sang-deok is still looking for the stake. The demon attacks a helpless Sang-deok and demands his liver. Hwa-Rim and Young-geun throw a bucket of horse blood on the demon to prevent it from hurting Sang-deok any further, at least for a few seconds. This allows Sang-deok to think for a bit and finally realize the reason he’s unable to find the stake is because it remains inside the demon, meaning the demon is the iron stake that needs to be destroyed. Thanks to his vast knowledge of feng shui, Sang-deok promptly comes up with the idea of using blood-soaked wood, which beats metal. That’s how he pulls off the impossible: destroying the demon’s existence for good. Bong Gil, who was being protected by Hwa-Rim’s sisters at the hospital, is also freed of the samurai’s possession. 

Exhuma ends on a rather happy note, where Hwa-Rim, Bong Gil, and Young-geun attend the wedding of Sang-deok’s daughter. While clicking the customary family photo, Sang-deok asks the other three to join him, which makes all the sense in the world considering what they’ve all gone through together. The film plays one last time with the audience by giving you the impression that something bad might just be around the corner, right before the photo is taken, but thankfully, nothing happens. Honestly, I’m glad that the director chose to end things like this. The characters deserve a semblance of peace after all the chaos. However, a sequel featuring our four heroes trying to fight new supernatural threats might not be a bad idea. What do you think?


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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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