Exhuma: Gisune And His Connection With Nure Onna, Explained

Within the last decade, the Korean horror scene has been flooded with movies revolving around the country’s practice of shamanism, known as Mugyo, as there are strong historical roots embedded within the polytheistic belief. Having its origins in prehistory, Korean shamanism has accepted different disciplines and religions over time, being a fluid amalgamation of diverse belief systems, which is a testament to the country’s rich cultural legacy. Along with the art of divination and geomancy known as Pungsu-Jiri, aka Korean Feng-Shui, shamanism is Korea’s unofficial indigenous religion. Jang Jae-Hyun’s Exhuma is the latest South Korean horror venture that examines the influence of both of these disciplines in regards to the country’s sordid past. Imperial Japan’s colonizing history is alluded to in Exhuma. As we see while the film draws upon mythological iconographies, the narrative presents Japanese folklore ad a form of adversary presence. There are multiple occasions in the movie where the visual cues and references allude to this, but the most prominent ones (aside from the anima) are highlighted by the Japanese monk Gisune and the Kure Onna spirit—the connection between the two we will try to explain in this write-up. 

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Spoilers Ahead


How Did Gisune’s Influence Result in the Burial Site Becoming Cursed in the First Place?

Korean geomancy, aka Pangsu-Jiri, is founded upon the concept of cosmic balance, which is achieved by a perfect harmony with natural order, balance among the five elements, and the yin-yang concept. A perfect alignment of all these contributes to the flow of energy, aka Chi, to have a positive and progressive direction, while a disturbance of the alignment hinders the Chi and causes much trouble, which on a smaller scale can affect a person or a structure, and on a larger scale can adversely affect an entire country. In Exhuma, it was revealed through the course of events that the Japanese monk Gisune, who is in all probability a reincarnation of the Japanese fox spirit known as Kitsune, had methodically arranged the means to cripple the nation of Korea by disrupting the flow of energy in a pivotal geographic spot. Gisune was no ordinary monk; aside from being an inhuman spirit who held massive power at his disposal, Gisune was an Onmyoji, a position that can be defined as the Japanese counterpart of geomancers and feng shui practitioners. Gisune is first mentioned by Park and his family in the movie, but as viewers reach the final moments of the movie, the Onmyoji’s presence is traced back to the 16th century, during Japan’s first attempt to invade the land of Korea. 

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During the concluding phase of the Sengoku period, under the Toyotomi clan’s rule, Japan invaded undivided Korea for the first time, and despite nearly taking over the country, it faced defeat at the end. As a last ditch attempt to leave the mark of their attempted violent overtaking of the country, Japanese Onmyojis like Gisune resorted to hampering the nation’s flow of energy by strategically inserting iron stakes across the ridge of mountains, as the act of metal inserted in the ground without a proper counter caused an imbalance in five elements. Gisune sealed up a cursed sword (slyly substituting the iron stake while having the same effect) in the body of a ferocious daimyo, aka Japanese war general, and buried it in the exact coordinates of the Korean mountain range, which was geographically important. Joseon, the Korean province, was identified as the tiger in Pangsu-Jiri, and Gisune put the grave of the daimyo exactly on the precise location of the mountain range, which was known as the ‘spine’ of the tiger, cutting it off from the waist as a result. Hence, Park utters the remark of the fox cutting off the tiger’s waist—a reference to this act of Gisune. The fact that eventually the place turned out to be a border area to North Korea, in a nation now divided, speaks to the far-reaching impact of Gisune and other Onmyoji’s handiwork. 

Much later, during the colonization of Korea by Japan, in order to further secure the site, Gisune had suggested the family of Park’s great-grandfather bury him at the spot, knowing well that having a rich noble family burial site atop it would protect it from grave robbers ever digging the daimyo grave up due to it being heavily guarded by security. Gisune’s plan was successful, as later, the South Korean patriot group Iron Blood Alliance, which ventured through the country to remove the iron stakes put by the Japanese to free the Chi, failed to access this site and were deported to North Korea. It wasn’t until Hya-Rim and Sang-Deok probed deeper that they were finally able to free the land from the disruptive force of the daimyo-guarded sword. 

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What Was Gisune’s Connection With Nure Onna?

After Park’s great-grandfather’s grave is dug and his coffin is taken away, one of the workers encounters a strange snake-chimera creature while tending the soil at the burial site. The worker kills it and within a few days falls ill, and eventually, his request to look into the matter is what brings Sang-Deok back to the burial site to unearth the coffin of the daimyo. The bizarre-looking creature with a human head and snake’s body is an export from Japanese mythology, especially from the domain of Ukiyo-E. It is a spirit known as Nure Onna, which is malevolent in nature. At the same time, in Japanese folklore, Nure Onna is often seen as the lackey of powerful Oni, and in this case, she was guarding the cursed sword-sealed daimyo buried underneath by Gisune. However, another reason as to why the Nure Onna was present at the burial ground is because Gisune knew that in order to hold his ‘iron stake’ in place, he needed to balance the elemental cycle. Park’s great-grandfather’s coffin had emblems of serpent-like creatures, which at this point is assured to be a symbol of the snake-chimera spirit. Nure Onna symbolizes feminine presence, fulfilling the yin-yang dynamic of the site along with the daimyo’s spirit, and also embodies the water element, which was needed to strike balance on an elemental scale as the other four elements were already present in the burial site. The fact that killing the spirit resulted in a heavy downpour almost immediately validates this fact. In a way, killing the Nure Onna tips the scale, which later releases the Oni/Anima, resulting in eventual death and disaster. 


Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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