Director: Na Hong-jin
Writer: Na Hong-jin
Cast: Kwak Do-Won, Hwang Jeong-Min, Jun Kunimura, Chun Woo-Hee, Kim Hwan-Hee, Jang So-Yeon, Heo Jin, Jo Han-Chul, Son Kang-Kuk, Kim Do-Yoon, Kim Ki-Cheon
Running Time: 115 min.
By Jeff Bona
Na Hong-jin, the fierce South Korean filmmaker behind Chaser (2008) and The Yellow Sea (2010), is once again unleashing hell with The Wailing – and let me tell you brothers and sisters – I’ve never been happier seeing a director’s return since Kim Jee-woon made sadistic violence look so alluring in I Saw the Devil (2010).
While every Asian film fanatic was waiting anxiously for Donnie Yen to fight Mike Tyson in Ip Man 3, I was fantasizing about the release of Na’s next relentless project – his first in 6 long years – and thanks to the gang at Well Go USA, my dreams have officially come true. With Chaser and The Yellow Sea being two of the damnedest crime flicks I’ve ever seen, I’m here to answer the simple question: Is The Wailing another bullseye for Na? Read on.
When a series of unexplainable, gruesome murders take place in a rural village, an incompetent cop (Kwak Do-Won) starts a chaotic investigation. Things get seriously personal when his young daughter (Kim Hwan-Hee) is directly affected by this deadly phenomenon. The only suspect is a Japanese hermit (Jun Kunimura) who recently relocated from Japan at the very same time slaughters began to happen; and the only clue is a poisonous mushroom which turns up at every crime scene. Are these murders committed by a human being or sparked by a mysterious force of nature?
While watching The Wailing, I couldn’t help but feel the influence of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Alan Parker’s Angel Heart (1987). And to really throw you off, I also felt shades of Scooby-Doo, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Hideo Nakata’s The Ring (1998). But let’s get one thing straight: The Wailing has its own thing going on, so don’t expect spinning heads, a deranged axe-welding lunatic, killer VHS tapes, Lisa Bonet’s hairy armpits or some kind of zombie apocalypse (and the “monster” doesn’t reveal itself as a high school janitor in a man-made costume).
I’ve only seen The Wailing once, but something tells me, no matter how many times it’s viewed, it’s one of those paradoxial movies where questions will always remain, leaving everyone with their own, unique theory. Of course, all of this is intentional. Clues and visuals are subtly placed to misguide the audience, but not in a cheap M. Night Shyamalan sorta way. By the end of the film, I didn’t feel like I was deceived, cheated or part of a stupid trick; once the end-credits rolled, I froze with a look of wonderment on my face. I was calmly thinking to myself “What the hell?”. At that very moment, I realized the movie did its job.
Even the The Wailing’s title is a double entendre: The original Korean title is Goksung (in English, it translates to Wailing, as in “give a cry of pain, grief, or anger”), and it also is the name of the location where the movie was filmed. In other words, Na has viewers by the balls, and he’s loving every minute of it. And so was I.
Mysteria aside, The Wailing delivers the goods. Na’s trademark grit is here. The violence is down and dirty; the presence of blood is all-you-can-eat; and once again, Na shoves intensity, uneasiness and evil down our throats. The entire cast, led by Kwak Do-Won, push themselves to the limit, surrendering to Na’s high standards.
Although The Wailing isn’t technically an action film, there’s certainly a revenge element that’ll undoubtedly satisfy fans of Chaser and The Yellow Sea. Humor also plays a noticeable part, but don’t get too comfortable with it, because things get disturbingly dark. And talk about a hard-hitting soundtrack that empowers the visuals to sheer perfection.
The Wailing is a third reminder to us all that Na Hong-jin is one of the greatest filmmakers alive. James Wan, take note: This is how you make a thriller.
Jeff Bona’s Rating: 8/10