Who in their right mind would make a 2 1/2 hour horror film? It seems like nowadays horror movies are getting shorter and their budgets are also shrinking. I recently reviewed Satanic, and in the special features they talk about how they had 15 days to shoot their film. Studios keep pumping out horror movies because they are relatively cheap to make, and they have the possibility of exploding in theaters like The Conjuring, Insidious, and Paranormal Activity series. Therefore, I assume things must work much differently in South Korea. The Wailing is a horror epic if there ever was one, probably due to the fact they had an astounding 180 days to shoot.
I’ll preface this by saying, I rather enjoy Asian cinema. Normally, when I score a film like this, I tend to review with the idea that you already enjoy this type of film, given that you are reading a review about it. The Wailing might be one of the few foreign films that could entice that significant other or family member to give this genre another chance. Like most Well Go USA releases, it only has subtitles in English. However, there is so much going on visually and thematically that it can keep others more engaged, even if they don’t like or aren’t familiar with Asian cinema.
The Movie Itself (4.5/5)
The Wailing has a lot of cross genres and tonal shifts throughout. While I feel they compliment each other, I could certainly see where some viewers are thrown off. Case in point, we have Jong-Gu. I can only describe him as bumbling, inept, and hapless, as the first hour of the film takes a somewhat comedic look at our hero(?). Jong-Gu is a Sergeant in the police force, yet he seems to be scared of many things and not very good at his job. He begins investigating gruesome murder scenes happening in his tiny village. The perpetrators of the murders are afflicted with mysterious skin conditions and they seem to go crazy for no reason. Whispers abound that the cause of this disease is the mysterious Japanese stranger who showed up not too long ago.
The Stranger is a quiet man that lives secluded in the woods. Jong-Gu has heard second hand accounts that the stranger has raped a woman and almost killed a man. It seems like Jong-Gu should grab his partner and go searching through this man’s belongings to look for evidence. Well that is exactly what happens, when another family gets slaughtered after one of the members goes crazy. Before he goes all 80’s wild card cop on the Stranger’s house, we see his daughter Hyo-Jin start to develop the warning signs of the plague. Consequently, this is where we start to see the tonal shift of the film. No longer is Jong-Gu the bumbling police officer, but slowly he becomes a harbinger of death! Well… as much as he can. Even after he starts to evolve, I still wouldn’t want him on my police force, because he still bumbles everything up.
Possibly my favorite aspect of this film is the addition of a religious element to the story. The religious aspect is subtle for most of the film, even though we have a somewhat central character as a shaman. While the shaman is a Buddhist, we also have Catholic priests, and many many Pagan references. After the film is over, you can go through the many bible homages and how the films characters represent many biblical figures. The beauty part of this though, is you don’t have to. The film doesn’t hit you over the head with many of the references and parallels. As a result, you can explore deeper into the symbolism or just take it at face value as an excellent horror/thriller.
What The Wailing accomplishes, I wish more Hollywood films would replicate. The Wailing isn’t defined by its 2 1/2 hour length, its how it utilizes the time. In addition to the development of the characters, almost every scene engages the viewer in some way. Could it have been edited down some? Of course. Yet, none of the scenes feel like filler and they all provide important information in some way. They aren’t all necessary to the continuation of the plot, but they do enhance the story. A film like this will never need a “director’s cut” or “enhanced/extended edition” because they give you everything properly.
I would highly recommend The Wailing to anyone who loves Asian cinema, just due to the beautifully shot scenes and superb acting. I really do think that this film can bridge the gap with those that love foreign films and those they know that would turn their nose up at it.
Visuals/Picture Quality (4.5/5)
There isn’t much to say about the picture quality other than, it is simply stunning. Anything in the daylight scenes looks crystal clear. Unfortunately, some of the night and darker shots can lose a little detail, but thankfully though, it isn’t often. There are quite a few rainy scenes, especially in the beginning, but I feel that the dark and dreary colors it shows help set the tone of the film.
Score/Audio Quality (4/5)
Dialogue is clear and I have no problem hearing them… even if I can’t understand what they are saying. This employs a 5.1 surround track which uses the rear speakers nicely, especially in the forest scenes. It could have even been used more often in my opinion. Effects were all well done. The screams and sobbing were very immersive and kept you right in the story.
Special Features (1/5)
The Beginning of The Wailing (01:51)
Making Of (04:56)
- The Wailing
- Black Coal Thin Ice
- Kill Your Friends
- Train to Busan
Usually I go through each feature and discuss about each item. Due to the length I see no reason, because if you liked the film you will spend the extra seven minutes.
- Disc Art
- Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- Korean: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Korean: Dolby Digital 2.0
Runtime 156 Mins
The Wailing Overall (4/5)
Like most of the Well Go USA releases I watch and review, I will lament the lack of special features here on The Wailing. It saddens me how much extra footage there must be on a 180 day shoot, along with numerous actors to interview. I can’t even blame the distributor completely as it probably has to do with a lack of audience for these types of films and balancing the amount of copies with a reasonable price point. If they were asking $20-$30 like some boutique shops per film then it would be more expected.
What we do have here is a Blu-ray with great technical merits and a film that is highly worth checking out. It seems to have been a long time since I have seen a movie American or foreign that has so seamlessly blended genres and really engaged the viewer quite as well as The Wailing.
I encourage you to take a look at The Wailing on Amazon and hopefully snag a nice slipcover with it.