South Korea is on a bit of a roll at the moment when it comes to movies, particularly in the horror / gore department. Train to Busan is an excellent example and hot on its heels comes The Wailing from writer and director Hong-jin Na (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea).
The Wailing tells the story of an inept, but likeable, local police officer Jong-goo, played by Do-won Kwak (The Man From Nowhere, A Company Man), in a small village in South Korea. When the residents begin killing each other, usually their families, it appears to be a strange bout of madness brought on by some rogue mushrooms. Jong-goo however, discovers a more sinister link, finding that the spate of madness seems to have coincided with the arrival of a Japanese man on the outskirts of the village.
When Jong-goo’s daughter Hyo-jin, played by Hwan-hee Kim (You Are The Best, On the Way to the Airport) starts exhibiting this strange madness, Jong-goo’s mother calls in a Shaman, Il-Gwang, played by Jung-min Hwang (A Bittersweet Life, New World), who’s loud and intense exorcism ritual appears to be making things worse. As Jong-goo’s world collapses around him, he confronts all manner of evil, but which one should he trust with the life of his family and his own?
I have to start with the length of the film, it creeps in at a little over 2.5 hours in length and creeps is the right word here. The movie is slow, there’s no getting away from that. There are times when you expect, and want, the movie to kick into gear which it does briefly, during the exorcism, but quickly slows down again which is a shame. What Hong-jin Na seems to be trying to do is echo the slow, Oscar-style films of Hollywood which is a brave move to do on a horror film which are traditionally fast-paced.
However, The Wailing is a very good film. It has an almost British humour to it, think Ben Wheatley style movies, which is a welcome relief at times. The scenery is gorgeous and how we switch from beautiful sunshine to sudden absolute downpours is a great touch. I’m not sure I’d class it as a horror necessarily, nor is it that gory either. It’s definitely intense, dramatic with plenty of fantasy thrown in.
Jong-goo is a completely inept protagonist as is most of the police force it seems, in fact most of the town who try and help too. Jun Kunimura (Kill Bill, Unforgiven) plays the Japanese stranger. He’s the silent, mystical man and you’re never quite sure who’s side he’s on right to the end, a testament to the writing. Playing the other mysterious character, The Woman of No-name, is Woo-hee Chun (Vampire Idol, Cart) who is kept at arm’s length for the majority of the film but plays quite a large part in the overall narrative.
The juxtaposition’s we get throughout are a joy and Do-won Kwak plays the inept, scared but determined police officer brilliantly. He is put through the mill in the film though it never seems to dampen his appetite. He shows us a whole range of emotions and each one is believable.
The Wailing is a good film, I can’t say perfect and I’m not sure it’s for everyone, but if you enjoy slow-paced, intense fantasy movies, then it’s exactly what you’re looking for.