'The Wailing' (2016) Review and Explanation

Updated on November 23, 2017
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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.


I've recently discovered Asian horror films. If I could watch more of them I would. Even if the subtitles melt away when the film is good enough to make you forget you are reading, it still takes a little energy to watch a foreign movie.

In any case, I am extremely enjoying the ones that have been recommended to me thus far. I began with I Am a Hero (2015) and went straight onto Train to Busan (2016) and both now sit firmly amongst my list of favourite films. I am glad that both South Korea and Japan are enjoying the spotlight. These movies are currently on-trend and rightly so.

If you haven't had a chance to watch one of these gems, please do so. So far no one I know has regretted it.

What's It About?

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

Jong-Goo is called to the scene of a vicious and bloody murder. A surviving member of the family sits motionless and covered in a blistering rash and blood from the victims 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?

Jong-goo leads his team of officers with investigations into a brutal murder in his village.
Jong-goo leads his team of officers with investigations into a brutal murder in his village. | Source

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'

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 heaps of rocks which 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. According to an interview I read, the comedic elements were added to make the foreboding 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? Are the events all just 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 in the trees 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. The houses where people live are paper-thin which begs for someone to wreak havoc by breaking through. Having No Name appear here and there and seeing her in the background could have been utilised well into creating a more sinister vibe.

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. I adored the swear words raining out of his mouth in just about every scenario. I think a few swears don't translate well and among the frequent F bombs are handful of "goodnesses." 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 its more reliant on the gesture of tiny clues and character development to worry about requiring gore.

The tiny nuances of culture 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. This particular movie is not easily understood like the one's 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 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.

Explanation. 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. It 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. At 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. 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

    © 2017 Mother of Movies and Series Reviews


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      • NessMovieReviews profile image

        Mother of Movies and Series Reviews 7 weeks ago from Moreton Bay, Queensland

        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.

      • profile image

        Illgatto 7 weeks ago

        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?

      • NessMovieReviews profile image

        Mother of Movies and Series Reviews 6 months ago from Moreton Bay, Queensland

        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.

      • CYong74 profile image

        Kuan Leong Yong 6 months ago from Singapore

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