Arriving from South Korea, via our friends at Fantasia Fest, we had the chance to see “The Wailing” (“Goksung” the original title) the third feature film from director Hong-jin Na (“The Chaser”, “The Yellow sea”). This film has been know for its long running time and for nicely presenting in its plot a clash between different religious/spiritual traditions, however, the thing that has been most talked about in the audiences and internet forums is the ending. Is it really that buzz worthy?
Let’s start with the plot: When a series of bizarre murders start occurring in a little village called Goksung, the policeman Jong-Goo, starts hearing weird rumors about a Japanese man that recently moved into a shack in the forest, and how he could be the cause of the incidents. Partly due his ineptitude and also disinterest in his work, Jong-Goo dismisses the rumors and rather go with the explanation given by the doctors that the strange behavior of the people in the village (and the murders) were caused by the ingestion of some bad hallucinogenic mushrooms.
After seeing that the violent incidents on the village increases and that more people in the village are showing a strange skin infection, Jong-Goo and his partner begin to take the rumors seriously. After (illegally) entering the Japanese man’s house, the policemen discover evidence that the stranger has been following the events occurred in the village very closely, however Jong-Goo and company have to retreat without being able to arrest the man. As if his troubles with the investigation were not enough, Jong-Goo starts to notice a strange behavior in his daughter Hyo-jin, who after suffering from nightmares, seems to have turned into a completely different person, convincing Jon-Goo and his mother-in-law that the child has been possessed by a demon.
After encountering a mysterious woman dressed in white, and seemingly running out of logical explanations, Jon-Goo looses his patience and confronts the man who thinks is responsible for all the tragedies that have plagued his village and his home, since also Hyo-jin has turned for the worse. This confrontation that was mean to end the troubles in Goksung will actually unleash the anger of a powerful force that Jon-Goo might not be able to stop, even with the help of a powerful shaman and a priest apprentice.
“The Wailing” is not a film that I can recommend to everyone. Running around 2 hours and a half, the movie presents a weird mix of social commentary about xenophobia and the ignorance and superstition that still lives on rural communities far away from the “modern civilization”. Added to this, there are elements taken from zombie films (Not the Romero kind, more like the ones on “28 Days Later”) possession films, asian ghost lores, scenes that makes wonder about the moral limits of some characters, an even a interesting clash between the different religious traditions and philosophies.
In paper the idea sounds interesting, and in several aspects it actually works, specially the subplot of the clash of different cultures and beliefs previously mentioned. The ending, however, is not that satisfactory, since leaves the spectator with more questions that answers, and while we might say that “Is left open for individual interpretation”, the truth of the matter is that after investing more than 2 hours to the plot, watching an ending so ambiguous felt like simple lazy writing, not even bothering to tie all the treads and deliver a COHERENT conclusion. (And let me tell you, I spent HOURS reflecting on the ending, revisiting the film, and even reading several forums that could shed some light on the subject).
The movie has several memorable scenes, it has excellent photography, interesting characters and even several great moments that makes you reflect on what is going on. The acting of the little girl, and the delivery of her lines were very, very good. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory, but there is one scene (or two?) where we are presented with a exorcism ceremony that has sparked several very interesting theories about what it means to the end of the film in forums that discuss Asian cinema. If you ever see the film, you might want to check those forums too.
The problem is that the first part of the film feels like a mystery with some forced comedic moments (Mostly due that the main character and other policemen are bumbling wailing idiots, I wonder if that is where the title “The Wailing” comes from) and the second part of the film feels like a slow burn horror movie. Even when the film itself NEVER gets boring, the plot feels uneven, dislocated, not quite fitting, specially for the ending, which I will insist, is going to leave a lot of people unhappy, after having invested more than 2 hours on the movie. (Take that 100% Rotten Tomatoes score with a grain of salt, o judge by yourself after watching the film).
In the cast of this film we have Do Won Kwak (“A Company Man”), Jun Kunimura (“Audition”, “Kill Bill”, “Why Don’t you Play in Hell?”, Jung-min Hwang (“New World”, “Veteran”), Woo-hee Chun (“Vampire Idol”). The film was written and directed by Hong-Jin Na.
Fantasia Film Festival is on its 20th edition, and has always been know for showing some of the best films in the Fantasy, Horror and Sci-Fi genres, currently running thru August 3rd. You can visit their official website to see more of the great material they are showing this year, and follow them in social media.