A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter.
“The Wailing” comes from Korea as a near masterpiece of thrills and chills. A strange Japanese man (Kunimura Jun, known to American audiences as Japanese crime boss Tanaka in “Kill Bill 1&2”), has entered a town away from the bustle of Seoul. Soon after, a series of gruesome murders begins to take place. Police Sergeant Jong-Gu (Kwak Do-Wan), bumbles his way through his investigation until events hit close to home. Along the way, the he sees stomach churning crime scenes, zombie-like humans and a mysterious young woman (Chun Woo-Hee) who claims she wants to help. His family eventually consults a Il Kwang (Hwang Jung-Min), traditional shaman, to help with matters beyond their control. The Korean countryside provides a stunning backdrop to the unfolding horrors.
Fans of Korean cinema will recognize most of the all-star cast bringing a tremendous amount of talent to the screen. Each of these actors has established a rabid fan base around the world. Kwak Do-Wan’s Jong-Gu plays as a bumbling, but likable protagonist. He fights hard when he needs to, but his affability heightens the tragic consequences of some of his decisions. Kwak’s expressiveness works perfectly well as he easily shifts from astonishment to terror to righteous indignation within seconds. He could easily have carried this film on his own. Kunimara stands out as the mysterious Japanese Man. He keeps the audience guessing, deepening the mystery throughout his performance. Just as Jong-Gu can’t make up his mind what to think about him, the audience never really understands his true nature until the last possible moment. Hwang carries himself confidently as the Shaman, working at a feverish pitch at times. Watch him closely as he shifts seamlessly from one scene to the next. His character is a lynchpin in creating the urgency and sense of doom which hovers throughout this film. Chun’s Mysterious Young Woman has just as many questions surrounding her as the Japanese man. She ably takes this smaller role and infuses it with depth and intrigue. Delivering a subtle performance, she and the Japanese man each pull at Jong-Gu for his family. The only question is who to trust. This entire ensemble gives award worthy performances, with special honor going to the young lady who plays Jong-Gu’s daughter (her name was not included in the press release). She powerfully represents the stolen innocence many children face in today’s world.
Writer-Director Na Hong-Jin’s script is a smoothly written gem. He carries us into the unknown easily at first, building brick by brick to a powerfully terrifying climax. His ability to communicate the human condition astutely is on full display here. Every piece, from a deceptively serene and beautiful cinematography to the claustrophobic confines in which much of the horror is placed feed his story with grit. His impeccable timing creates the feeling of dread where no dread should exist. While this tale is old, it feels freshly renewed, drawing on many spiritual traditions to demonstrate the grey areas between black and white. Much of the look and feel “The Wailing” presents reminds me of Alejandro Inarratu’s work, yet with a uniquely Korean flavor. In this film, the quiet moments are as moving and frightening as the harsh, brutal action we see.
“The Wailing” is easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year. It not only keeps the audience on edge, but provides much insight into the pitfalls of being unwise and putting faith and trust in the wrong place. I highly recommend it.
Available on Blu-ray & DVD October 4th