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'The Wailing' (2016) Review and Explanation

Asian horror is becoming on trend. I am a big fan and find the cultural accents a breath of fresh air. I will recommend some for you.

The Wailing #thewailing

The Wailing #thewailing

If you haven't discovered Asian horror films, you're missing some of the best narratives in existence. The subtitles melt away when the film is good enough to make you forget you are reading, but when you're first starting out with foreign cinema, it takes a little extra energy.

The Wailing is one of the most famous South Korean cinematic events ever made. It's talked about a lot and often misunderstood. However, with a little research, the underlying meaning of films like The Wailing make them more enjoyable. You might even end up rewatching it because it's that great.

What's 'The Wailing' About?

In The Wailing, police officer Jong-Goo has a non-descriptive, quiet life in the village with his wife, mother, and daughter.

Jong-Goo's called to the scene of a vicious and bloody murder. A surviving member of the family sits motionless. Covered in a blistering rash he has the blood from the victims on himself and within the house.

Stories linking a Japanese man living in the mountains of the village begin to circulate and occurrences of others with the same rash followed by more murderous scenes begin to mount.

Are the stories about the Japanese man true? Is he really the cause of all the bloodshed within the small village?

#thewailing #koreanhorror Jong-goo leads his team of officers with investigations into a brutal murder in his village.'The Wailing' explanation and review.

#thewailing #koreanhorror Jong-goo leads his team of officers with investigations into a brutal murder in his village.'The Wailing' explanation and review.

I have no idea what kind of person you are to watch my film. Nevertheless, I tried to make a film for you. Whatever ideas come to you while you watch the film, they’re yours. I want this film to be your own. On the other hand, there is one thing I wish everyone who watches this film to feel, regardless of who they are: a condolence for those who disappeared after having fallen as victims of the world, and for those who are left behind. I sincerely wish this film gives you some time for condolenc

— Na Hong-jin, Director and writer during an interview with Nikola Grozdanovic

My Thoughts on 'The Wailing'

Review for The Wailing

I balked when I saw the run-time for this film. The Wailing boasts a massive 156 minutes. I did find a few slower moments that seemed slightly without a point until after when I reflected back on the meaning behind the story.

One example is when we meet Moo-myeong, which means no-name in Korean. She sits slightly down the road while Jong-goo, the protagonist, and his fellow police officer sit and talk. No-name squats down and throws a heap of rocks that accumulate in a scattered pile around the two. From time to time, Jong-goo calls her names and tells her to go away. I found this scene humorous at the time and I think that was the intention. Comedic elements were added to make the foreboding length and symbolic direction more bearable. I think he nailed that.

Aside from that scene, the story travels along rather effortlessly. The tale permits just enough information to keep you wondering. Is the mysterious Japanese man someone to be afraid of, is he somehow the cause of the chaos? Could the events all just be part of a mystery illness linked to violent outbursts by people within the village? Has No Name got something to do with it all?

It is not particularly scary. While the lighting and mountain scenes were well constructed, I felt it could have used a few jump-scares. There are plenty of dark cavernous rooms and candle-lit scenes to work with. People live in paper-thin houses begging for someone to smash through them. No Name appears sporadically but seeing her in the background could have been utilized better to create a more sinister vibe.

Final Summary of The Wailing

The characters are engaging. I particularly loved Jong-goo's average Joe responses to most situations that occur in the first half while slowly building towards obsession and darkness. The swear words raining out of his mouth in just about every scenario were wonderful. A few swears don't translate well and among the frequent F-bombs are a handful of "oh my goodnesses!" It's so toned down from what I am used to seeing. It made me smile from time to time.

The gore is more prevalent in this, compared to Train to Busan and I Am a Hero, however, it is still less than its Western-cultured counterparts. I did like that it's more reliant on the gesture of tiny clues and character development to worry about requiring gore.

The tiny nuances of cultural differences that make these types of movies unique also add a strong amount of personality to the story. It is often that Korean and Japanese writers add religious aspects to their films, be they horror, drama, or action. The Wailing's not easily understood compared to the ones I have watched before. I really had to think about certain scenes and characters. Once I thought I had figured it out I wanted to go back and watch it again.

I give The Wailing 4 rakes to the zombie's head out of 5.

'The Wailing'—Trailer

Quick Film Info

Director and Writer: Na Hong-jin.

Date of Release: May 2016 in Korea and October on DVD.

Genre: Horror.

Box Office: $51 million worldwide.

Spoilers follow...

Spoilers follow...

Explanation for 'The Wailing.' What Does it all Mean?

The Director and writer Na Hong-jin found inspiration from life events surrounding the deaths of close friends by unnatural causes. Although he is of Christian faith, he questioned his beliefs and felt the need to write about the why's when it comes to death. He specifically designed it to be an occult film crossing between his Asian identity and his Christianity. The Wailing does also include themes on Buddhism and Korean Shamanism too.

This short character break-down is the easiest way to understand what happened at a base level. There is so much more to read into the story, but for the purposes of a simple explanation—this will do it.

  • Jong-goo (the detective) represented those that need proof to believe in the existence of God, Angels, or a good spirit. He and his family were being protected by the good spirit until he helped murder the Japanese man, then she was unable to keep them safe unless he stayed away. She could only protect the innocent and once he went back to his house, his family were again at the mercy of the evil.
  • No Name (the mysterious woman) represented an angel or spirit of the village. In the end, she tests Jong-goo to believe what she is saying as she had protection around his house. She is also responsible for people having bad dreams and for a range of other deeds such as trying to help Jong-goo and shine a light on his way of thinking. She highlights that even someone good can cause things to be bad.
  • Japanese Man is a Shaman who feeds souls to the Devil or a higher evil spirit. It is not until the end that this becomes totally transparent as he takes the demon form. What he says in the cave refers to him only being a demon because everyone thinks he is. He has a camera to take photos which represents the taking of souls. The guy owns a hell-hound.
  • Il-gwang (the Shaman) is working with the Japanese man. The two go from town to town feeding souls to evil. I also think he had his own motive of being famous and making lots of money. This is highlighted by his ritual which targets Hyo-jin and not the Japanese man. He also has a camera to take photos of. He reacts when in the presence of the good spirit and not in a good way.
  • The Mushrooms mentioned at the beginning are actually the cause of the violence in people. Although it's easy to attribute this to one of the two antagonists, I think the mushrooms had a drug-like effect on those that consumed them and caused them to murder. It was also mentioned at the end as having been the cause. The two Shamans were there to collect souls.
  • Hyo-jin is 'the innocent.' In the battle between good and evil, she was the unfortunate by-product of the war between the spirits.

There are tonnes of religious applications and clues if you pay attention to things like clothing and specific phrases that can back all this up but I'm not here to explain religion. Just enjoy the movie.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is the "The Wailing" movie a true story?

Answer: No, but the director drew from life experiences in the underlying meaning behind some of the film’s themes.

© 2017 Movie Whisperer


Movie Whisperer (author) from Moreton Bay, Queensland on February 14, 2019:

From what I can ascertain, stigmata doesn’t guarantee someone is ‘good’ in fact demons are known to mimic stigmata in many well known horror movies. The lead in Welcome to Mercy gets stigmata and she in fact I’m not touched by God.

Rogin Thomas on February 12, 2019:

I have one doubt, did anyone notice that the Japanese man have a wormed hole in hand like jesus christ at end scene.

Movie Whisperer (author) from Moreton Bay, Queensland on January 01, 2019:

Thanks Sam— This one is quite different, much less action and not for everyone. I do hope you like it though.

Sam Shepards from Europe on January 01, 2019:

Thanks for the review, watched train to busan and I ama hero, will check this out.

Tiffany V on May 19, 2018:

Who ever wrote this movies feedback have a boring way of expressing thoughts... using *silly* words as well... Plus, don’t said you are explaining about the film. It’s a wrong concept, you are just *kind of* summarize your thoughts. Explaining is explaining how the movie started and ended.

Movie Whisperer (author) from Moreton Bay, Queensland on March 05, 2018:

Oh yes Illgato, I would have gone into some of the religious references that definitely impacted the story but they were many. She even warns him not to go back (as she had a protection spell for his family but not for him. He was not innocent. I touch on it a little in Jong-goo’s description. So complex this film. I love it.

Illgatto on March 04, 2018:

The scene where the Japanese man shows his stigmata (the wounds through his hands) seems to infer that they had already crucified the innocent. The Japanese guy was terrifief when he was being chased, and this scene seemed to represent the townspeople casting judgement without proof. After they "killed" him the damage was done, but they were offered redemption through putting their faith in 'god' or the woman. When he ignored her warning and returned to the house he failed and then in turn received his judgement. What do you think?

Movie Whisperer (author) from Moreton Bay, Queensland on October 19, 2017:

He does a little. Have you seen this one? I have been told Na-hong’s other two film Yellow Sea and Chaser are better, however, this is on Netflix so I watched it first.

Ced Yong from Asia on October 19, 2017:

At a glance, the guy in the first pic looks like Kim Jong Un. LOL