By Michael Kalafatis
“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Directed by Na Hong-Jin. Starring Kwank Do-won, Hwang Jung-Min, Jun Kumimura. In Goksung, a small village in Korea, an ominous disease starts spreading and when eerie murders start to occur, a police officer is drawn to theses mysterious murders not only to try and solve them but also to save his daughter. The Wailing starts very light-hearted by following Jong-Goo (Kwank Do-won), a clumsy and idle police officer who lives a carefree life in a small village with his teenage daughter and wife. The first part of The Wailing is like watching a comedy, even when the atrocious murders starts the film still retains a light tone, but as it progresses and the murder cases starts to accumulate while simultaneously the police officer’s daughter gets the deadly disease the film becomes more sombre and tonally more serious.
The Wailing is very reminiscent of another south Korea film released in 2003 called Memories of Murder, both films are about mysterious murders that occur in a small village, but where Memories of Murder was a police procedural film, The Wailing is more than that, because it adds supernatural elements. With the progression of the narrative various influences creeps in, influences from film like The Exorcist (1971), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and elements taken from horror films like The Grudge (2004). With so many influences from so many contrasting genres it is a great achievement that Na Hong-Jin, the writer/director of the film has managed to create a cohesive narrative that seldom falters. Na Hong-jin has inconspicuously divide The Wailing into three parts, the first part uses the genre of comedy and police procedure, the second part the genre of crime thriller, drama with shades of fantasy and the last part is a mixture of three genres horror, thriller and fantasy.
The best example of how Na Hong-Jin manages to interweave so many genres simultaneously, is when Jong-Goo asks a shaman to remove the demon that has possessed his daughter, so the shaman perform a ceremony to exorcize the demon. At this point Na Hong-Jin shows us three point of views that are interlink, the first is about the distraught Jong-Goo who is with his wife and their possessed daughter, the second shows the shaman in a ritual cutting the necks of live chickens while smearing his face with their blood and the third a demon who performs his own ritual. This sequence is very overwhelming both visually and aurally, and it manages to intertwine all the major themes of the film like hopelessness, fear of loss and mystical threat.
The Wailing is one of those films that when you finish seeing it still stays with you for days because the director has taken the time to establish the main characters of the story, which manage to make them more relatable and three dimensional, so when unpleasant things starts to happen to them we as viewers we get more affected by their agony, it’s the thing that most Hollywood films lack, and films are about the characters and not the action and meaningless explosion that hold no meaning. Other non-Hollywood trait that The Wailing has is how unpredictable it is, it plays with your mind and makes you doubt the things you are witnessing, at some point the main character doubt where the source of the evil comes from, even though from the start of the second part of the film he was certain, so when he starts doubting his own mind we also start to doubt our own.
The Wailing together with Park Chan Wook’s the Handmaiden and Train to Busan are a legitimate proof of how the quality of South Korean films has risen on the past years that can rival even the most acclaimed European or American films. South Korea has managed this year to produce films that are thought provoking while being entertaining at the same time, a category that The Wailing comfortable belongs to.