The Wailing, directed by Hong Jin Na (The Yellow Sea, The Chaser), is being shown at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival and ultimately feels like a moderately successful, overlong (156 minutes), yet interesting film. The movie fails on as many levels as it succeeds. I know my review won’t be the popular one, considering many have labeled this an instant classic, but I ultimately concluded it was a worthwhile watch with many issues.
In The Wailing we meet Jong Goo (Do Won Kwak), a local police officer, who lives with his wife, daughter and mother in a crowded residence. So crowded that the only place he can be intimate or have a private conversation with his wife is inside their car. He appears to be a lazy cop who regularly gets berated by his superiors for his lack of caring and his inability to even try to come up with a reasonable excuse for his failures. In his village, mysterious events occur; such as a plague like illness, madness resulting in murder and an overall sense of impending doom. This all seems to coincide with the arrival of a mysterious stranger (Jun Kunimura), whose role is not revealed to the end. We also meet a greedy shaman and a mysterious female, whose roles are also not clearly defined. The first hour of this film has some comedic elements, but after all the mysterious unexplained behavior starts to hit home for our bungling hero, things get serious. An exorcist is brought into the village and the questions of who is truly the bad guy here and are multiple parties involved come to fruition.
The biggest issue here is that this film then starts to go all over the place with its action. Is it an exorcist thriller or a zombie thriller? What role does this supposed zombie play? What are its powers and how did it come to be? I don’t mind a film that leaves the viewer to interpret the action onscreen, but in this case that sensibility does not work. Confused in the end, I was not happy with my idea of what I had just witnessed. I may appreciate it more with a second viewing, but right now I was not contented, especially after two and a half hours. I just came away from this film empty. If a film with such a bloated running time is conceived, I really want a memorable epic. Our genre usually works best with slimmed down films. If deviating from the norm, I expect something special.
In conclusion, can I recommend this film? Yes I can. There are many positives— the acting, the cinematography and the tension in the last scene was fantastic. Like many Asian films, The Wailing is tonally all over the place and that style worked for me in the past, with such shockers like Dr. Lamb or Run and Kill, which have had bizarrely comedic elements side by side with mind numbing horror. The tonal schizophrenia did not work for me here, but it is a solid effort with enough successful elements for any genre fan to enjoy. I just would not hail this film as a new classic like many are. I would say it is an interesting film sorely in need of an editor.
2.5 out of 5 Zombie Heads