the wailing | hon-jin na | jun kunimura | jun-min hwang | do-won kwak | ritual | possession | possessed | demon | ghost | religion | mystery | thriller | south korea | united states | woo-hee chun | hwan-hee kim | jin heo | jang so-yeon | do-yoon kim | kang-gook son
Film: The Wailing (Gok-seong)
Director: Hong-jin Na
Writer: Hong-jin Na
Starring: Jun Kunimura, Jun-min Hwang and Do-won Kwak
This is an interesting film from South Korea. I had heard good things on podcasts about it and was quite intrigued to finally checking it out. I’ve now seen this movie three times, with my last two times being for the Podcast Under the Stairs. The first time for over there was for Movie Club and now for the Summer Series. The official synopsis is soon after a stranger arrives in a little village, a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman, drawn into the incident, is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
We first establish a little bit about the lives of this village. Our main character is Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak). He is a little bit heavy-set police officer who is a bit bumbling. He lives with his wife (So-yeon Jang), his mother-in-law (Jin Heo) and his daughter Hyo-jin (Hawn-hee Kim). There isn’t much privacy so the married couple actually has to sneak off to make love in the car, in which their daughter catches them.
Jong-goo is called to a house where a murder took place. It seems a member of the family went crazy and killed everyone else. It is there that Jong-goo notices some fungus growing on the house and there is a rash on the person who went mad’s body and his eyes have a milky look. Other odd things like this happen where people go crazy and kill their loved ones. After another of these attacks, Jong-goo meets a mysterious woman (Woo-hee Chun). She is throwing rocks at him and he keeps scolding her.
More of these deaths occur and a strange Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) is blamed for it. Jong-goo goes out there with his friend and his friend’s cousin who can speak a little Japanese. It is there they find an alter with a goat’s head. Is this man causing it? The stakes get raised when Hyo-jin comes down the rash and starts to act odd.
I’m going to come out and warn you that this film is two and half hours long. It doesn’t feel like it though. I have to give that the film is actually paced very well. The mystery unfolds in a crazy way that I enjoyed. I do think a little bit could have been trimmed off, but I’m not complaining about them not doing so. There are so many twists and turns in this that actually really helps and warrants that long runtime.
My plan is to not spoil this film, so I am going to talk very broadly. We get an interesting back and forth as to whether or not this is natural or paranormal entities causing this. We see early on that there is mushroom/fungus like growth on the first house of the murder. The rash is also a very real thing that we see as well. Now personally, I’ve had a fever or been dehydrated so bad that I was delirious, so this is definitely very possible explanation that we get here. The film also has some supernatural aspects.
To begin here, we get a man who is pretty much naked and has red glowing eyes. This guy looks most definitely possessed by something. We also get another one much later on that looked to be dead. At the time we see either of these, we didn’t see them die so it is open-ended. Are they possessed, returned from the dead or just crazed? There is then another back and forth at the end of the film that had me mesmerized trying to figure out what the truth was and who was lying. This film does a great job at keeping you guessing and I loved it. The ending is bleak and I was all for it.
We also get some social commentary here. The first is the occult vs. modern medicine. The mother-in-law is convinced that they need a shaman to help them where Jong-goo thinks there is a logical explanation. I put this in folk horror from South Korea for this. We even get more pagan religions vs. Christianity here. Oh Sung-bok (Kang-gook Son) brings in his cousin who is training to be a Catholic priest, Yang Yi-sam (Do-yoon Kim). Can he help? There is also the distrust of outsiders. Many people are sharing stories about the Japanese man. Are any of them true? Is he the cause of all of this? There is a commentary here about how Japan is to blame for a lot of bad things historically in South Korea so I like incorporating that here.
In order to make all of this work, the acting had to be on point, which I thought it was. Kwak I liked as he is just a flawed character. He starts off a little bumbling, but we do see his love for his daughter. I like his drive to protect her makes him do some nefarious things. He never becomes a super cop or anything so it is believable. You can also make the case he’s the blame for what happens to his family. Kunimura was creepy at times in his role. I did kind of feel bad for him as there is really no proof he did anything and he is just an outsider. There is a scene though where he sexually assaults a woman where I didn’t feel bad for him anymore. But after this second viewing, it makes me wonder if that happened or just a story about him. Chun plays her role very well. She doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she doesn’t really need it either. I give her a lot of credit for what we got as she commands the screen. I didn’t touch on the shaman who comes to help, Il-gwang (Jung-min Hwang). He is such an arrogant character, but has a great reveal at the end of the film. The rest of the cast round out the film well for what they needed.
To go along with the acting and the story, the film is shot beautifully. Where the film takes place seems like a peaceful village that is being devastated by what is happening. On top of that, it is by the mountains, so there is a bit of isolation here that I thought was good for the feel. The effects were also solid. I’m not sure if there was any CGI used, but if there was, it was very well done. The use of blood wasn’t over the top, but very natural. The attacks on people aren’t really shown on camera, but the aftermath we see they are brutal.
The only thing left to talk about is the score of the film. It definitely fits the scenes for what they needed. We do get to see some rituals being done and I thought the chanting and music used there makes the film that creepy. There is great editing there as well as we see a similar ritual being done at the same time. I would say that this was on point for the film.
Now with that said, I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this film and I enjoyed it. The story is great in that at its most basic idea is trying to save his daughter. There is the duality of what can help her and this village, science or religion. What is causing it as well? The supernatural or something that is natural. I was thoroughly impressed. The acting brings this to life. Editing for the film was well done as was how the film looks and the effects. The score also helps this atmosphere. The only real gripe I had was the length of the film, but overall, I can see why it is as long as it is. There’s a ton to unravel here. I do want to warn you that this film is from South Korea, so I had to watch it with subtitles on. If that is an issue, I would avoid it. If not, definitely give this film a viewing. I think it’s excellent.
My Rating: 10 out of 10