Exhuma: Feng Shui & Korean Mythology, Explained: What Did “The Fox Cuts Off The Tiger’s Waist” Mean?


On the surface, Exhuma appears to be a Korean horror film rooted in its history and culture, revolving around a family with generational trauma. A film that, for a lot of us, might be hard to comprehend because of its historical references, yet is still enjoyable thanks to its atmospheric horror that keeps a viewer engaged throughout. However, to really understand the horrors of Exhuma, we must first try to understand “Feng Shui” and how it plays a huge role in the core of this story, along with the Japanese occupation of Korea. In the first scene, the lead character, a shaman, corrects the air hostess about her being Korean and not Japanese. A minute detail that permeates the whole film by acting to foreshadow what’s to come. In Exhuma, Park Ji-Yong struggles to diagnose his son’s ailment through Western medicine and decides to call upon a Korean shaman to see if there are any dark forces involved. Immediately, Hwarim and Bong-Gil are able to determine that this is an ancestral problem. Before we jump into Feng Shui, we must understand a little bit about how the Park family offended Korean sentiment. 

Spoiler Alert

Why Is Grandpa Park’s Grave So Mysterious? 

During the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1901 to 1945, a few Korean families decided to join forces with the Japanese, becoming loyal patrons of the enemy in order to gain power. Grandpa Park was one such man. This is the family secret, and without this information, the shaman is meant to free the Parks of their ancestral damage. What’s odd is that Grandpa Park’s grave is at a hidden location in a mountain range that is a prime spot for foxes. According to the shaman Hwarim and popular geomancer Sang-Deok, the location is completely inappropriate for a grave as it’s a home for foxes. According to Feng Shui, graves and foxes don’t really go very well together, and I suppose, since they’re fodient animals, the fear is they might dig up the graves. 

“The Fox Cuts Off the Tiger’s Waist” Meaning

You must be wondering what tiger and what fox, but don’t fret because I got you (at least a little bit). Let me make it super easy for you to understand. According to the Parks, a Japanese shaman they refer to as “Gisune” suggested the grave location for Park as a sacred spot. According to Japanese folklore, the “Kitsune” is a captivating and formidable entity that is known to have numerous magical powers, such as shape-shifting, possession, mind control, etc. According to some tales, they’re able to breathe fire as well, and they use their shape-shifting powers to live as humans and wreak havoc. We have heard of the “gumiho” in many K-dramas, and I do feel like it’s a very similar legend. Importantly, we’ve got to remember that the Kitsune is associated with the element fire. Historically, it is said that the Japanese were against Korean Feng Shui practices, which use “Feng,” i.e., water, and “Shui,” i.e., wind, to determine the perfect location for important events, etc., so they placed iron rods across the Korean peninsular to stop the flow of positive energy in the country. Apparently, the mountains they drove the iron rods into were also sacred, and they had powerful “ji-gi,” or “earth energy,” as well as “san-gi,” i.e., mountain energy. However, to add to the shocking revelation of “Exhuma,” these rods are also strategically placed in the mountain range that separates North and South Korea. The map of the Korean peninsular looks like a tiger, and so the fox cutting the tiger’s waist essentially refers to these rods, separating the country. 

How does this have anything to do with Park’s grave? Well, Grandpa Park’s coffin is placed on top of a massive coffin that is placed vertically in the ground. This vertical coffin acts as one of the iron rods in the split of the tiger’s waist! (Woot, now it all makes a little more sense, no?). The Parks tell Hwarim and Sang-Deok that Grandpa Park’s grave was in said location because of grave-diggers, but what they probably don’t know is that these “grave-diggers” are actually Koreans looking for the iron rods to remove them and restore the prosperity of Korean land. Fun fact: in 1995, to mark Korea’s 50th year of independence, the government supported a search and removal of these iron rods. 

How Do the Elements Play an Important Role?

Remember how I said fox = fire? Naturally, we know some elements can oppose others; for example, water beats fire. So, keeping that in mind, we must look at the snake with the face of a woman, also known as the Nure-Onna. The Nure-Onna is another creature from Japanese folklore that is meant to represent water. The Nure-Onna was in the grave to make sure the anima, i.e., the Japanese samurai in the vertical coffin serving as the iron rod, couldn’t escape. The Nure-Onna is water, and the anima is fire. Now, we keep in mind fire vs. water and metal vs. wood. In Feng Shui practices, the elements are considered opposing forces, too, and they are able to balance each other out, like yin and yang. So, the Nure-Onna basically maintained the harmony of the grave. So, when one of the guys killed the snake in fear, he disrupted the equilibrium of the gravesite, unleashing the fire and metal anima. 

So, we can infer that the anima, which was created with a flaming sword (a technically massive, fiery iron rod guy), can be defeated by the elements of water and wood. So, at the end of the film, Sang-Deok is able to defeat the anima using soaked wood (how simple) using these same feng shui principles. At the end of the day, Exhuma fantastically blends Korean legend, traditional folklore, Feng Shui, and shamanism to give a new twist to a typical “haunted family” story and make it rather badass. For a more in-depth explanation of the film, you can check out our Ending Explained article. But, hopefully, with my little research, you will be able to put together your own interpretation of the film! 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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