If you even remotely know me or the content that I produce, you’ll know I love horror films. I even made one. I also love Asian culture in general, and Asian horror in particular. I find the nuances of their filmmaking much more appealing than the jumpscares we’re seem to be encouraging Hollywood to produce. So when I saw that the cult Korean hit “The Wailing” was available for me to get, I did done got me some. Here’s another joint review brought to you by a humble servant and Haru, his trusty fiancee.
“The Wailing” has a premise that isn’t all that different from other films: one day, a policeman is woken up by a phonecall telling him of a murder. Bad things ensue. It seems pretty much by-the-numbers, right? Wrong. It’s difficult to explain what makes this film so different, engaging and downright weird, but I’ll do my best.
First of all, this is near-as-makes-no-difference, a 3 hour film. Does it feel like it’s dragging its feet? No. Why? Because the tone changes at least 3 times throughout the length of the tape. And it’s not like they didn’t know what they wanted it to be; rather, they knew they wanted to surprise the audience by starting with a light-hearted horror comedy and ending with a heart-wrenching tale of loss.
I usually find this type of move to be too obvious and obnoxious, but somehow “The Wailing” pulls it off perfectly. I think Haru knew why instantly:
Haru’s thoughts: Asian films can get away with a little more creative license because their culture is so different to the general public. Asian films also have this culture advantage when it comes to entertaining me: they represent my culture. It is partly me on the screen. It’s not fake.
Even a quirky Asian horror film couldn’t hold our attention for nearly 3 hours without some good acting, though, and “The Wailing” takes the cake when it comes to surprising performances. Both Haru and I were particularly impressed with young Hwan-hee Kim’s acting as Hyo-jin, the daughter of the main character. Her range was outstanding for any actress, let alone for such a young one, and it blew us away in the third act specially. I have not been this touched by a physical, visceral performance since Jennifer Carpenter’s 2005 performance in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”.
One thing to note about “The Wailing” and other Korean horror films is that, unlike most of their Japanese counterparts, is that they choose to color-correct their films like western cinema rather than the much colder, real, almost video-like look of films from the Land of the Rising Sun.
I strongly believe that this highly stylized approach to color-correction helps bridge the culture gap for western audiences of Asian films and makes it easier for our brains to enjoy them.
“The Wailing”, then, is a three-course meal full of great acting, beautiful shots (specially some of the landscapes, they look like paintings) that is choke-full of tension. It starts almost funny and evolves into an edge-of-your-seat experience that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Speaking of the ending: it’s nuanced. And when I say nuanced, I mean you have to know a lot about Korean and Asian mythology in general to grasp even the ending plot. But it makes it that much more of an involved experience, and while it won’t touch as many people as “Inception” did in 2010, it certainly will keep you guessing just as much, if not more.
A niche piece for sure, but one that is tremendously rewarding for those willing to put in the effort. A must watch for fans of international horror films.