So once again we have survived.

The Wailing

tn_wailingTHE WAILING is a long, moody, unpredictable South Korean film about a terrible evil coming to a small fishing town in the mountains. The plot is fairly simple, there’s not that much to it, but I like how it takes you very gradually from naturalism to a bit of craziness.

It’s one of those openings that made me immediately think this might be a great movie even before anything actually happened. It just has this potent transporting quality as it depicts this hapless cop Jong-goo get up early to investigate a crime scene. Rain is coming down hard, you can hear it in every direction. He’s still trying to wake up, and he’s not in any hurry. And then he gets there and all the officers are sheltered under their tent-like rain coats, walking through and cataloging the aftermath of a horrific murder, and unlike the usual depiction of seen-it-all cops barely phased by dead bodies (while one minor character kneels down and pukes to show that this is an extra bad one) we see Jong-goo’s terrified expressions as he witnesses the increasingly bizarre circumstances of the deaths.

This is our hero. Not some badass. Just a guy. And it endears us to him so that we’ll relate all through the movie.

Jong-goo seems like he would be in a comedy before a horror movie. There’s some dry humor between him and his buffoonish friend and weird happenings in the town. For example a scene where they try to do their job of sitting in lawn chairs guarding a crime scene while some crazy woman down the street is crawling around on the ground throwing rocks at them. It cuts away and comes back and there are rocks all over the ground around them like she’s been throwing for an hour and they’ve never figured out how to make her stop. They just sit there and take it.

mp_wailingThere’s a theme of storytelling: people telling scary tales, spooking each other, some repeating other people’s stories, rumors spreading around, mostly about this Japanese man who lives in the mountains who people claim to have seen running around buck naked with glowing demonic eyes and eating a deer’s throat out, stories like that. You know, gossip. We’ve all been victim to it.

So, something is happening in this town. A few residents have flipped out, savagely murdered somebody, then sat there dazed and covered in blood with no explanation of why they did it. Or they’ve just gotten really sick and might die. It’s spreading around the city. There are many theories. The main one being: there’s that Japanese guy. It’s his fault.

Jong-goo tries to be the reasonable one. He comes up with a more plausible explanation than foreign witchcraft, and is sad that he’s not taken seriously. He gets a Japanese-speaking priest to come with him to talk to the Japanese man, and actually finds some strange shit in his house – pictures of all the infected people, and some of their belongings. Including a shoe belong to Jong-goo’s daughter, Hyo-jin.

That’s when it gets intense, when Hyo-jin has the sickness. It’s brutal. Screaming and cursing, she totally Linda Blairs out on him. The mouth on that little girl. Embarrassing. And it’s not like her. And also she gets covered in boils. So it’s not just, like, she’s having a hard time in school. It’s clearly a real disease and/or magical curse of evil.

Jong-goo changes as the mystery becomes personal – more willing to believe crazy shit, more willing to do crazy shit, more determined, more serious, less moral. He will turn into Liam Neeson if necessary to save his daughter. I forget if Liam Neeson ever kills a dog when trying to save his daughter. Jong-goo does. But just killing dogs isn’t gonna get it done, so he decides to listen to what everybody was saying before and hire a shaman.

The shaman Il-gwang kinda acts like a rock star, and kinda is one. He performs an exorcism ritual that, frankly, is way more fun than what those Catholics do in THE EXORCIST and the ten thousand boring exorcism movies that have been made since then. This guy’s routine is to other movie exorcisms as James Brown’s church in THE BLUES BROTHERS is to white people church. He’s got all these guys drumming and playing weird instruments and there’s a bunch of goat heads and chickens around, a bunch of shit on fire, he’s dancing around, stabbing knives into hanging sides of beef, spitting blood onto swords, chopping wood with the swords… It’s like a free-jazz concert that got way out of control. I can see why people would be into this. We could go out to a club and that could be a good time but hey, should we see if anybody’s doing an exorcism tonight?

To be frankly honest I’m not sure what this one is all about. At first it seems to be warning about the dangers of gossip and xenophobia. But then it seems to confirm that the gossips and xenophobes knew what the fuck they were talking about. I definitely think there is a certain cultural understanding that I’m missing here. But I also think that’s part of the movie’s weird appeal – I don’t really have a context for it so it feels more out of control, less predictable. I can’t tame its scares by comprehending them.

I also don’t know why it’s called THE WAILING. I thought there would be some bloodcurdling cry to identify the possessed or something. I don’t know. It still works as a title though in my opinion. It’s creepy, whatever it is.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 at 11:46 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “The Wailing”

  1. This is on my immediate list of films to watch. I’m going to SK in September to see my brother in Mokpo. Thus I’ve been on an SK film binge lately. I bought a copy of The Yellow Sea and just watched it and its absolutely dementedly violent. I’m in awe of what I just watched.

  2. It took me a while to get with the flow of SK films. I mean, I’ve liked most of the ones I’ve seen – THE CHASER, THE HOST, A BITTERSWEET LIFE, MEMORIES OF A MURDER, BEDEVILLED, to name a few.

    It’s just initially jarring to be watching a dark serial killer flick like MEMORIES, and to have the cops acting like Abbott and Costello at times. That’s not a complaint, just a new flavor I got to experience.

    And yes, THE YELLOW SEA was pretty good. I saw the two hour version, then heard there was an hour longer cut floating around, which I’ve yet to aquire.

  3. Then you should try to get the flow of North Korean movies. Have you seen one? I saw one in the mid 80’s, and still remember it well.

  4. Great movie. A real slowburner. It kinda starts like a tubby cop comedy only to grow into something deeply disturbing. It´s also a classical Whodunnit until the very last minute. There´s only one question left:
    Vern, did you like it?
    PS: THE YELLOW SEA (from the same director) is great gut-wrenching time at the movies.
    Unfortunately it got a little bit overlooked in 2010. Everybody was talking about the knife fights in THE RAID and not the sharpened bone stabbings of YELLOW SEA. You should put it on your watchlist. Peace out.

  5. Never seen one, pegsman. I imagine there’s not a huge international market for state-controlled cinema out of NK. You weren’t kidnapped by Kim Jong IL and Clockwork Orange’d into watching one back in the 80’s were you?

    I guess they’d make for a good social study of life behind the red curtain.

  6. pegsman is a commie I would not be surprised if he get express deliveries from North Korea on a daily basis.

  7. However you could tell us more about your cinematic expeirences,, pegsy. Instead of being oblique and strangely undefinable in your descripton

  8. I’ve only seen PULGASARI, which is one of the movies made by the South Korean director that Kim Jong-un kidnapped. It’s a giant monster movie that could not more clearly be a metaphor for the dangers of authoritarianism, so I’m guessing their cinema is not as state-controlled as the state thinks it is.

  9. Sorry, it was Kim Jong-il that kidnapped the director, not Kim Jong-un. My bad.

  10. You better get your Kim-Jong´s in check, or nobody is going to listen to you. Jesus, what the hell were you even thinking?

  11. Oblique is my middle name, Shoot. I can’t remember the name of the movie, and it was shown on TV here more as a study of the insanity that goes on in NK than entertainment, but what sticks in my mind is the constant praising of the leader (Kim Il-sung in those days) and a lot of crying and screaming when things worked out in the end.

  12. “To be frankly honest I’m not sure what this one is all about. At first it seems to be warning about the dangers of gossip and xenophobia. But then it seems to confirm that the gossips and xenophobes knew what the fuck they were talking about. I definitely think there is a certain cultural understanding that I’m missing here. ”

    After watching it I thought I had on okay grasp on what happened but yeah, it turns out there’s A LOT of cultural Korean stuff that will go over everyone else’s head. Here’s a good summary that does a nice job explaining everything in 4 minutes. Spoilers, obviously.

    Review: Gokseong (곡성, The Wailing) [MOVIE ZUM IN] summary & interpretation (ENG SUB)

    [MOVIE ZUM IN] Gokseong (The Wailing) Watch this clip that helps you better understand the main storylines of Gokseong(The Wailing). Click this video and dec...

  13. A lot of DPRK films are available on YouTube now, if you’re so inclined. The only one I’ve been able to sit through without falling asleep is THE FLOWER GIRL (1972), which was considered a hugely important film at the time (the lead actress adorns a DPRK bank note).

    If anyone is interested in Kim Jong-Il’s kidnapping of Shin Sang-ok they should check out the book A KIM JONG-IL PRODUCTION, which is a really fascinating read about life as an outsider living in the DPRK and Kim Jong-Il’s obsession with Western cinema.

  14. The scene where Jong-goo goes to the Japanese guy’s shack is one of the most intense scenes I’ve seen in a long time and it balances you emotions on a razor’s edge. It manages to be really farcical and scary at exactly the same time.

  15. I really dug this movie too. It was scary. I thought the way the exorcism scene built to a frenzy while cutting back and forth from the girl and the family was super intense. To me, the movie felt like a modern, grittier retelling of a folk tale- sort of like a Korean THIS SNOW WHITE KICKS ASS AND ALSO THE EVIL QUEEN IS AN OUTSIDER, JUST LIKE HOW YOU FEEL ON FRIDAY NIGHTS or whatever those movies are called that have been coming out the last few years.

  16. Just saw this, and I’m gonna call it the best thing I’ve seen this year. Weird, mysterious and creepy as hell. It’s been a while since a movie has made me talk back to it (the last one was Southpaw, where I told it to fuck off), but as the reveal was playing out I could only say “Fuck.” “Oh, shit.” “Fuck.” “Fuuuuuck..”.

    I’d recommend going into this one cold, and don’t watch the clip from Illinois Smith till after you’ve seen it.

    Also, I rewatched THE YELLOW SEA, and it’s got a lot of sloppy filmatism going against it. Some post-action shit and jittery camera moves. Slightly disappointed. You wouldn’t know THE WAILING was from the same director, as it’s grade A in every way.

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