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The Wailing (2016)

Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/4/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/5/2016

Fifteen years ago, Asian horror movies were a hot ticket. Fans of obscure scary movies were importing titles from Japan, China, and Korea and geeking out over movies like Ringu and Ju-On. It didn't take too long for Hollywood to notice this trend and we soon got remakes of those two classics, along with several other Asian titles. This trend continued for a few years, but soon fizzled out. One would have to assume that horror movies are still being made overseas, but we simply don't get them here like we used to. So, when one comes along, I always try to check it out. Therefore, I dove right into the South Korean entry The Wailing.

Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) is a cop in a small town. He's not necessarily lazy, but he'd rather spend time with his family. As the film opens, he's called to the scene of a grizzly murder, where the suspect is exhibiting bizarre behavior. When another death occurs, the police begin to suspect that an odd man who lives on the edge of town (Jun Kunimura) may be involved. However, Jong-gu can't focus on his work, as his daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee) begins to spouts profanities and act violently. A shaman (Hwang Jung-min) is brought in to help. Jong-gu doesn't really trust this man, and he feels torn between looking after his daughter and trying to get to the bottom of the evil which is permeating the town.

If you've seen even one foreign film, then you know the anxious feeling of missing something in the story due to cultural differences. Sometimes these can be very small, and at other times, they can be huge. I can't say that I know anything about small-town life in South Korea, but, at the outset, The Wailing seems pretty straight-forward. We meet Jong-gu, we meet his family, we see him go to the murder scene -- it's all pretty straight-forward stuff. But then Writer/Director Hong-jin Na begins to pile on more and more things. There is a red-eyed ghoul who haunts the forest. There is a scene with a zombie. There is a naked woman who terrorizes the police station. There are the low-rent scenes in which Hyo-jin is suddenly in The Exorcist. There are the seemingly real-time sequences in which the shaman performs his rituals. It's as if Na is throwing everything possible at the screen to see what sticks.

Well, none of it does. There are some threads of logic and story in The Wailing, but much of the film feels like vignettes or separate movies, all of which feature Jong-gu. Over the course of a pain-stakingly long two-and-a-half hours, the movie just keeps going and going and never gels. I got part of the final twist, but most of the movie was simply lost on me. I typically don't look to the masses for comfort, but I didn't have to go far on the internet to find that I wasn't the only one who had no idea what was going on in this movie. The strange old man is referred to in the film as "the Jap", and I did read one theory which claimed that the whole movie is about tensions between South Korea and Japan. That's a nice interpretation, but it didn't help me to better grasp this movie. What I found was a movie full of half-baked ideas. It's sort of about a murder investigation. It's sort of about possession. It's sort of about demons. And I also learned that it never helps when a character appears in the last five minutes and attempts to become a major part of the story.

Again, I'm always down for an Asian horror film and as this has become such a rarity, it's even more disappointing when they aren't good. Hong-jin Na has done a great job of capturing the look of the village. The green, rolling hillsides looked like landscape shots of New Zealand, while there was no hiding the ramshackle house in which Jong-gu lives. It's too bad that the remainder of the film doesn't work at all. At first, Jong-gu is presented as a sort of comical figure, but he becomes more inept and difficult to like as the film progresses. The stories go nowhere and it literally took me days to watch the movie as it did not hold my interest. Assuming that internet theory was correct, I'm all for movies with political undertones, but make sure that the overtones work as well.

The Wailing is all over the place on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. Not unlike the movie, the transfer is diverse. The majority of the movie sports a clear image which shows no defects from the source materials. However, some scenes show unmistakable video noise. Throughout, the colors look very good, most notably the greens of the countryside. The depth is fine, but there's a drop in detail at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, as they show good separation. The surround sound effects work well during the action sequences, and really come to life during the shaman's ceremony. There are also some mild subwoofer effects.

The Wailing Blu-ray Disc contains just a few extras. "The Beginning of The Wailing" (2 minutes) is almost like a trailer as we get few clips and some on-scene footage, all the while listening to Director Hong-jin Na describe his vision. We also get some quick comments from the cast. "Making Of" (5 minutes) is a lot like the previous piece, as we get comments from Na and the cast, along with clips and on-set footage. We hear a lot about the tone of the film and then get information on the grueling six-month shoot. The final extra is a TRAILER for The Wailing.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long