Na’s The Wailing made a lot of noise
at Cannes film festival this year, garnering some pretty solid verdicts. The
latest from the South Korean director who made The Yellow Sea is an odd thriller which follows ill-equipped
policeman Jong Goo(Do-Won Kwak) as he investigates a strange infection and
spate of savage murders that erupt across town with the arrival of a mysterious
Japanese man (Jun Kunimura).
The film is a strange mix of horror and dark
comedy, only lightly skirting the edges of humour through a prism of the
blackest kind. But the film could never be labelled as a black comedy or even a
horror film; the ease with which it wanders through genre ideas and tones is a
credit to the cohesiveness of its world.
Wailing never feels ridiculous, or even silly. By invoking
black magic, occult, and shamanistic icons, Hong-jin Na constructs a place
where anything can happen. The savagery of the murder and on-screen gore is
shocking, but not as affecting as some of the more subtle scares. There’s
almost something Lynchian about the ease with which evil seems to permeate
through every frame, slowly infecting the sanctity of the domestic environment
as well as Jong Goo himself. Much of this is down to cinematographer Kyung-pyo
Hong whose miserable rain-soaked palette does as much for the crushing atmosphere
as events themselves. His work on Snowpiercer
was as successful at helping establish a
natural lived-in quality, the bonus effect here is that The Wailing’s fantastical moments earn a real kick and a bonus
element of discomforting reality.
It’s not too weird for its own good though.
Hong-jin Na is a master at building tension or simply letting his scares crawl
out the woodwork. There’s plenty moments that illustrate a deep understanding
of the mechanics of fear and plenty images which illustrate a good eye for basic
unsettling visual gags, but it’s the framing of those events that is so
impressive. The characters that matter are well portrayed and drafted, so it’s
easy to get dragged along by this ultimately mysterious trail of moral and
Hong-jin Na’s latest is an engrossing
slow-burner, at first a moody thriller eventually a dense network of ominous
acts of cruelty and horror. There’s something infectiously interesting about
its refusal to define itself, and -even if the ending doesn’t quite tie up what
the film initially set out to explore- it does offer a beautifully crafted
story with plenty discomforting concepts.
Wailing is an undeniably ambitious film, discontent
with being a simple thriller. The results are two-fold: firstly, it’s an
entrancing experience elevated beyond the simple mechanics of what’s expected,
secondly, it makes a huge group of contemporary western thrillers seem
THE WAILING / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: NA HONG-JIN / STARRING: DO WON KWAK, WOO-HEE CHUN, JUNG-MIN HWANG, SO-YEON JANG, HAN-CHEOL JO, JUN KUNIMURA / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 11TH