[Herald Review] Evil in its purest form in ‘The Wailing’

By KH디지털2

Na Hong-jin’s new iconic horror flick headed to Cannes

  • Published : May 4, 2016 - 14:33
  • Updated : May 5, 2016 - 13:39

Why do bad things happen to good -- or at least normal -- people? What singles them out for catastrophe? These are the questions director Na Hong-jin pondered on when he began writing the script for “The Wailing,” he said after the movie’s press screening Tuesday in Seoul.

“The Wailing” (“Goksung”) takes viewers on a journey to answer those questions -- an overwhelming, thrilling and terrifying journey that ends in coming face-to-face with what can only be described as the origin of evil. It is an awe-inspiring monster of a film, transcending genre and defying all expectations and reason. Some are already calling it a “masterpiece” that could rival iconic horror flicks such as Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”

At the center of the story is Jong-gu, played by Kwak Do-won, a meek, unremarkable policeman. He lives in the rural county of Gokseong with his wife, young daughter, and mother-in-law.

Hwang Jung-min stars as a shaman in “The Wailing” (Fox International Productions)

The film begins as Jong-gu and his team set out to investigate serial killings that have swept through their quiet locale. They discover tortured dead bodies covered in red boils, torched houses and altars indicative of some sort of rite. More and more villagers succumb to the unidentified boils, which are accompanied by violent behavior. Rumors begin to spread that a newcomer to the village, a strange Japanese man who whiles away time fishing, is the source of the disease.

A mysterious woman named Moo-myung, played by Chun Woo-hee, confirms the rumors to Jong-gu, whose daughter has begun showing symptoms of the disease. Now motivated by personal outrage, Jong-gu seeks out the stranger, played by Japanese actor Kunimura Jun.

Following their encounter, increasingly horrific things happen to Jong-gu’s family, who finally seeks the intervention of a shaman, played by Hwang Jung-min, to rid their home of evil spirits.

This is only the beginning of a setup that gets more unsettling with every scene. The events that unfold are rendered even more surreal against the hyper-real cinematography. The weather and rural setting of Gokseong -- the rain, the sunset, the rolling mountainous horizon and the glaring natural sunlight -- highlight just how unnatural these events are.

Bestiality is a major theme in “The Wailing.” Also striking is its bold entanglement of religion, including Korea’s folk beliefs, Christianity and Catholicism. Desperate to cure his daughter, Jong-gu seeks the help of both shamans and priests, ultimately resorting to an elaborate shaman ritual in a scene that is beyond powerful. 

Kunimura Jun stars as a Japanese stranger in “The Wailing” (Fox International Productions)

The cast is notable. The young Kim Hwan-hee delivers a frighteningly precocious performance as Jong-gu’s disease-stricken daughter. Kunimura Jun is sublimely frightening as the stranger, a force of nature.

Fantasy flicks and zombie thrillers are nothing new, but it takes an uncommon mind to create something truly disturbing.

“The Wailing” gives no excuses for what has taken place, but offers what could be a glimpse of evil in its purest form. It simply “is,” and will continue to be. In the words of Na, the victims are as “random as fish that happen to take the bait.” And his lens glares at it all, with ruthless, unflinching intention.

The film opens locally on May 12 and will screen in the Out of Competition category at the Cannes Film Festival on May 11-22. 

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)