July 31, 2016

Theatrical Review: The Wailing (2016)

"Comedy, Horror, Police Procedural... we won't soon forget this one."

And here we go again with South Korea dropping another top-notch Crime Thriller on us, only this time, it's got a Supernatural bent to it. We're all about watching Korean Gangsters war amongst themselves, or seeing a Seoul Cop or two trying to track down a Serial Killer, but throw in a Demon, a Shaman, and some good old fashioned possession, and that just takes it to the next level for us.

Director Hong-Jin Na is no stranger to us, as his excellent films The Chaser and The Yellow Sea have long since been a part of our Foreign Film lexicon. When we heard that his newest movie dipped its toe into the Supernatural pool, we knew we were in for something special. Or at the very least, different. Maybe even odd.

The Wailing is definitely all of those things.

Jong-Goo is a bumbling Police Sergeant in a small South Korean village who seems ill-equipped for his job: he shows up late; appears to be afraid of confrontation; and overall, he doesn't seem to have a clue about much at all. After being called to a grisly murder scene, it's obvious that neither he, nor any of his fellow officers are prepared to deal with what they find. Then again, they probably don't see many zombie-like killers with irritated, boil-covered skin, so it's understandable.

Soon enough, more murders occur, each of them involving some sort of sickness that leaves its victims covered in angry, weeping boils. At one point, the Police decide that wild mushrooms are to blame (?!?), but after hearing rumors of an old Japanese stranger who lives in the forest, Jong-Goo begins to wonder; everything was fine before the stranger arrived, and he's shown up at every murder scene to watch the Police work, so there has to be something sinister about him. After a local man swears that he saw the stranger feeding on wild animals, with red, Demonic eyes, that stared into his soul, Jong-Goo is convinced of it.

When Jong-Goo's daughter falls ill to the plague that's been sweeping through the village, he sets out to confront the stranger with the help of his partner and a local Deacon. It doesn't go well. Desperate for help, a suave Shaman is called in to put a Death Hex on the Japanese stranger, as that will no doubt cleanse the village of his evil presence. Add to that a mysterious woman in white, and things go from bad to worse pretty quick.

The Wailing is a long movie. clocking in at 2 hours and 35 minutes. It's a tough watch in that respect, and it could have benefited from a bit of a trim here or there, but even in its over-long state, it's one of the most engaging Thrillers that we've seen this year.

I'm still trying to grasp what the movie was truly about, as some of it makes very little sense. There's definitely an evil presence in the small village which is making people sick and causing them to commit some heinous murders, but then again, there could be more to it than that. I view it as a straight-forward Supernatural tale, but that doesn't mean that it is.

That very mystery had us going the whole time, wondering just who was causing the sickness, possessions, and re-animation of corpses, or if it was anyone at all. The Japanese guy is obviously an evil Demon, but then again he could be a innocent man who is swept up in some good old fashioned xenophobia once things start to go wrong in his new S.Korean hometown; then there's the mysterious woman in white, who seems to delight in tormenting Jong-Goo, and is also sufficiently creepy, so what if she's somehow behind the occurrences; and of course there's something not completely right about the flashy Shaman who shows up and makes a big production out of cleansing the village of its evil...

***BEWARE SPOILERS*** This movie had us guessing as to what in the hell was really going on up until the end, and in the end, we were satisfied. Without giving too much away, there's a biblical element to the movie that involves spirits using human beings for their own ends. It kind of felt like a chess game between good and evil, with Jong-Goo being the main pawn. It was clear to us that the Japanese stranger was a in fact a Demon, and that the Shaman was also one, perhaps even the strangers apprentice. As for the woman in white, we're pretty sure that she was a good entity who was trying to help Jong-Goo. I'm not sure why he was punished (the woman in white's explanation that he had "sinned' made no sense, because that "sin" didn't happen until well into the movie, and by then he had already been plagued with terrible things), but in the end, it was all about his journey.

Then comes the ending, which wraps everything up in horrific, heartbreaking fashion.

There's some nasty bits throughout the movie, including animal sacrifices, some grisly murder scenes, and a disturbing, blood-soaked finale.

A sex scene, but nothing gratuitous at all.

S. Korea is rife with Supernatural activity. And Serial Killers. And inept Cops.

We really liked The Wailing, and it was a fantastic movie, but it left us with an odd taste in our mouth. I think that its over-abundance of humor towards the beginning caught us off guard, as we were expecting a scary and more serious movie from the get. I think we'd have to watch it again to see how we truly feel about it. It may even go up a half grade or so, who knows.

As it stands though, The Wailing is an excellent Supernatural Thriller, and one that you should seek out and experience when you get the chance.


The Wailing is in theaters (Limited) right now.

Woo-hee Chun is in this.


  1. I was baffled when the last segment took place and the movie ended. Huh, things didn't go the way I thought they would. This is a compliment, though. After 1 watch, I'm at 4/5, too. Perhaps, I need to re-watch and might realize the threads which let to the ending but with a long runtime, I think I will wait for some time to pass.

    Side note:
    I would have slaped the child the 1st time it said "Fuck off!" to me. I would have apologized afterwards but would slap it first. Of couse, not too hard. Since it's still my only child.

  2. How did you guys watch this movie? Attend a film festival?!

    1. No Festival, it was playing in Cleveland in June, and two of us got to see it. Doesn't hit our area (Michigan) until late August.

  3. Been waiting for this for months! The director is part of the Mount Rushmore of Korean directors! Very excited (even tho all his movies are a smidge long)

    1. I love Korean films like this. They really are at the top of the Thriller game.

  4. So I just finished this, and it took me a few tries due to falling asleep a few times(not because the movie was boring mind you, just tired). So I see in the review that things seemed confusing for some people at the end. Since I had the ability to play things back a few times, I think I got it pretty much figured.


    So basically I saw this as a test for the main character. At several times in the movie he had a choice to go one way or the other. But in the end he made the wrong one. It turned out that the Shaman AND the Jap/Devil were in cahoots with each other, while the woman was actually the good spirit trying to trap the Devil.
    Really, if you know anything of the Bible, there are many stories like this one, with way worse endings. People in the bible are tested by God and fail, only to lose everything. Honestly, to me, this is not a crime thriller in any way. I will say that once again these Koreans kicked our asses all over the place with their cinema. This movie was simply fantastic in every way. Even the humor, which almost every Korean movie has(due to their culture I suppose) was perfectly normal to me, and in this movie was actually pulled way back then it could have been. Anyway, if anyone has a question, I am pretty sure I can answer it.

  5. The ending melted my brain. Fugging loved it

  6. I want to love this movie as for the most part I was riveted and laughed out loud more than once, but the ending lost me. I googled enough sites trying to discern some form of coherence here and came away that the film maker left things open to interpretation, but at what point do you just acknowledge he has no idea what it means either. Urg.

  7. So I'm a minister, who just happens to adore fright flicks, but that's another story. I mention this only because I do know a thing or two about the Bible. Testings by God are always to strengthen, not tear down. God's aim is life and to the full. The devil on the other hand, he seeks to kill seek and destroy. This film stayed with me for days. I was completely engrossed while watching it and even laughed a number of times, which was a nice surprise. I don't always get the humor is South Korean films, especially films of this type. I remember thinking scenes in Making of a Murder seemed out of place. However, I was disappointed by the ending of this film. I don't like ambiguous, choose your own intrepation, endings. I think a writer and a director should have a vision and the boldness to present it. Anyway, that's my own thinking. Back to the testing, if the main antagonist was indeed tested at the end, it made no sense. What father would not seek to save his family. Why would he be punished for not trusting some woman in white who is a complete stranger other than she once threw rocks at him. Also, the great sin he committed of seeking out the Japanese stranger that brought suffering to his daughter made no sense to me. She was possessed before he sought out the man. Still, the journey was worth a diapointing end in my opinion.