The Wailing Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
A foreigner’s mysterious appearance in a quiet, rural village causes suspicion among the locals – suspicion which quickly turns to hysteria as the townspeople begin killing each other in brutal outbursts for seemingly no reason. As the investigating officer watches his daughter fall under the same savage spell, he agrees to consult a shaman for answers – unknowingly escalating the situation into something far more dangerous. (From Well Go USA’s official synopsis)
As someone unfamiliar with the work of writer/director Na Hong-jin, The Wailing (his third film) is like a dive into the deep end. This epic, obsessive metaphysical journey into darkness isn’t entirely unlike Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003) or Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil (2011), so I wasn’t entirely unprepared. But Na’s brand of Korean crime melodrama comes loaded with a supernatural twist and, as it turns out, it only follows the murder mystery/cop drama genre line for about an hour. Shortly after, it begins to branch off into slapstick comedy, epidemic/outbreak horror, domestic melodrama, exorcism movie, and even zombie action. The film features an expansive ensemble cast of oddball characters, including a shy priest-in-training (Han-Cheol Jo), a boorish, John Constantine-like shaman (Hwang Jung-min), and Japanese superstar Jun Kunimura as the coolly menacing assumed villain of the piece. But, like many Korean films of its ilk, The Wailing is largely built around the experiences of a central character in this case, the bumbling investigating officer in charge, Jong-Goo (Kwak Do-won). Jong-Goo suffers from comically outrageous nightmares, avoids responsibility because the situation creeps him out, and overreacts to danger in a buggy-eyed, vaudevillian manner. His antics are anchored by his powerful love for his daughter and growth from a born loser into a reluctant.
These outwardly silly, over-the-top elements are juxtaposed against the seriousness of the grisly violence and haunting countryside imagery. This bleary tone is pretty typical of modern Korean cinema and offers a refreshing contrast to Hollywood crime and horror movies, where even unique stories tend to follow structural formulas. Na defies our expectations by implying such a structure, then pulling it out from under us with huge plot twists, absurd events, and unpredictable character reactions. The unpredictable tone is further fueled by a pseudo-episodic nature of Na’s screenplay, which wanders off the storytelling path without losing the vital narrative thread. All of these choices, along with Na’s impeccable stoic compositions, account for the extreme length of the film. 156 minutes is certainly a commitment and a more demanding critic could probably convince me it was excessive (I would also be willing to hear arguments that too many elements are introduced without explanation), but the deliberate pacing feels ‘right’ for this particular movie. Events are rarely predictable, never dull, and, most importantly, the extra time pays off in the form of bone-chilling moments. Na isn’t really concerned with jump scares and the longer we’re given to care about/for Jong-Goo’s family circle, the more disturbing the horror surrounding them becomes.
I couldn’t find any specs on The Wailing (the end credits list ‘Arri,’ which isn’t entirely specific), but the fine grain and dynamic range tells me that Na and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo shot it using traditional 35mm film. This is, as mentioned, a very long movie and it takes up a lot of space on this disc, so it’s not surprising that there’s some compression. It’s not a step back for Well Go USA, who released a handful of problematic Blu-ray’s early in their inception, though – just shy of perfect. The edges are sharp without major enhancement haloes (you can see a glint of halo here and there) and textures are complex without appearing muddy – there’s just a hint of blocking and noise that kicks-up during the darkest sequences. Colors are natural and vivid during daylight sequences, grim and teal during nighttime scenes. The palette is consistent and warmer hues pop nicely against the more neutral backdrops. Most of the obvious blurring is the result of delicate focus pulling. Black levels are consistent and clean, though there are some hot-spot issues with the brightest white highlights.
The Wailing is presented in its original Korean language only – there is no English dub option – and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Much of the mix is subtle and eerie, but full-bodied in terms of how much noise is coming out of the speakers at any given moment. Environmental effects, like rain, thunder cracks, wind, waterfalls, and street traffic fill the space between the more boisterous supernatural noises. Jang Young-gyu’s spooky music sets a disturbing tone and is neatly situated in the stereo and surround channels, where it conjures moody scares (even during funnier moments), but doesn’t overwhelm dialogue – aside from a handful of brass cues between scenes and really loud percussion cues during the exorcism scenes.
The Beginning of The Wailing (1:51, HD) – A quick promotional featurette with the cast & crew.
180 Days: The Making of The Wailing (4:56, HD) – A slightly more in-depth EPK featuring many of the same interviews.
Trailer and trailers for other Well Go USA releases
The images on this page are NOT representative of the Blu-ray image quality.