Korean Cinema has slowly been gaining traction in the West thanks to a series of films that play into the notion of Asian Extreme Cinema. Films like The Host, Oldboy, Memories of a Murder and I Saw the Devil have caught the public imagination and brought the cinema of Jee-Woon Kim and Joon-ho Bong to the attention of the mainstream. Another Korean director who perhaps hasn't received as much attention as he deserves is Hong-jin Na. Working steadily in the thriller genre with hits like The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, his third film The Wailing released through Kaleidoscope turns the creepiness up to 11 and may scratch an itch for anyone wanting to see some supernatural Asian chillers.
Set in a rural Korean village, The Wailing tells the tale of Jong-goo, a police sergeant inspecting a series of bizarre murders linked to a strange sickness. Through his investigation all signs point to an old Japanese man who recently moved to the village. However, when Jong-goo’s daughter contracts the disease, Jung-goo soon finds that he doesn't have any easy answers or solutions to what originally appeared to be an ordinary murder investigation.
The film is a spellbinding blend of genre, and it is a wonder to watch the film slowly develop from an almost comedy to an out-and-out horror film. While a couple of twists do come out of left field and the film's ending suffers from a lack of ambiguity, the fact that it still holds your attention after two and a half hours is a testament to the writing skills of Hong-jin Na. The tension, especially when reaching the film's endgame, is so palpable you could cut it with a blunt spoon, which is helped by the expert use of long shots and slow tracking shots inward. Both Hong-jin and his crew, editor Sun-min Kim and Cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong, construct an utterly captivating and gorgeous, unsettling and repulsive film that I just cannot look away from.
This world created by the crew is populated by a fantastic cast of memorable, likeable and flawed characters. Do-won Kwak 's Jong-goo is so real and likeable that the tragic events that unfold around him touch us on a deeply emotional level. Hwan-hee Kim as his daughter Hyo-jin is spellbinding as a little girl succumbing to this terrifying affliction, and the chemistry between Hwan-hee and Do-won at the beginning of the film is so entertaining that, when the end finally arrives, it hits harder. Jun Kunimura and Woo-hee Chun, the Japanese Stranger and Moo-myeong are enigmatic in all the right ways. While Hwang Jun-min transforms himself into a slimy, showy shamen, who like the Japanese man and Moo-myeong is not all he appears.
To cut a long review short, I loved the film from start to finish; you never know where it is going and the final conclusion, though again I would have liked more ambiguity, is still a heartrending punch to the gut. I was on the edge of my seat from the start, a must see film if there ever was one.
While the film itself is a solid entry in a stellar line of Korean horror, the disc itself has some problems. Firstly, there are some subtitling issues, though this only happened at the beginning of the film and during the end credits, I think it is important to mention, especially because it is a Korean Language film and I don't speak Korean. I would like to have known what the quote was at the beginning of the film, as well as not having the dialogue subtitles interrupted by the opening credits.
Another major issue was the visual quality of the disc. At points the DVD looked as if it was showing in 240p which while didn't exactly ruin my experience with the film, it did somewhat minimise the effect of some of the slow track shots or quieter moments as I was a little distracted by the slightly blocky pixilation. It felt like I was watching a legally dubious stream of the film rather than an official release.
Though these may be because it is a press copy, I hope that they do deal with these subtitling and visual issues for the actual finished product.
There are no real extras to speak of on this disc; there is in total about five minutes of promotional TV spots that are made of a montage of on-set-footage and interviews with the cast and crew.
While the disc's visual quality, clunky subtitles and lack of special features count against the release, I am willing to tolerate the first two issues and overlook the last one because, to be frank, The Wailing is the finest supernatural thriller I have seen in a good long while and is definitely a film that anyone with a taste for Extreme Asian Cinema should add to their collection.