A mysterious occurrence in a small village is the basis for this thriller that seems to have a bit of an M. Night Shyamalan film but is much more better than expected.

In the rural village of Gok-Seong, ginseng farmer Cho and his wife have been found dead. The suspect is Park Heung-Guk. Checking the suspect’s house, it is believed that the consumption of wild mushrooms may have been the cause, but investigating officer Jong-Goo doesn’t believe it. There have been stories that a Japanese man who has arrived may have some responsibility especially after a couple burn down their house, killing almost everyone and during the investigation, Jong-Goo finds himself attacked by the crazy couple.

As Jong-Goo and partner Seong-Bok are in charge of protecting the crime scene, a mysterious woman appears and tells Jong-Goo that the Japanese man is responsible. When the two arrive with Seong-Bok’s nephew Yang E-Sam, a priest in training, things don’t go well as planned. However, Jong-Goo learns that his young daughter Hyo-Jin begins to show symptoms similar to those who have been afflicted. When an actual confrontation with the mysterious Japanese man fails, Jong-Goo’s mother-in-law has hired the services of Il-Kwang, a local shaman who has the power to possibly solve the mystery. Will Jong-Goo be able to cure his daughter with Il-Kwang’s help? With more bodies popping up, it becomes a race for time before it is too late.

Part-mystery, part-horror film, Na Hong-Jin took six years from writing the script to actually filming and while this may seem similar to a film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Na adds the twist of religion and it is because of this, combined with the performances of the cast that makes this better than expected let alone be a better film that the last few horror “spectacles” directed by the once-promising Shyamalan.

Forget the glamorization of Hollywood here in terms of casting the lead. If this were made in Hollywood, one would expect someone like Mark Wahlberg or Brad Pitt to play the troubled detective who must find a way to save his daughter from what could be a demonic possession. However, for this film and its setting, Kwak Do-Won is perfectly cast in the role of Jong-Goo. The rotund actor, who looks like may be better in supporting roles, goes from miserable cop who does have a bit of comic relief in the beginning to a seriously concerned father and officer responsible for figuring out not only the rash of murders but how it can affect his daughter, played in a wonderful performance from Kim Hwan-Hee.

Hwang Jeong-Min’s shaman character of Il-Kwang has the vibe at times of Lin Shaye’s paranormal expert in the Insidious film series but adds a touch of overacting in certain scenes, notably the so-called “exorcism” scenes. Hwang is the type of actor who can make any film role work (see him in Fists of Legends and Veteran as two prime examples) and you can see why his talents work well here despite a bit of the overacting. Meanwhile, Korean actress Chun Woo-Hee makes the most of her limited screen as the mysterious woman, who warns our protagonist about the other mysterious cast member, played by Japanese film veteran Jun Kunimura in a pretty good performance.

The opening of the film has a quote from Luke 24:37-39 and it is without a doubt relevant to the story as we do deal with religions. Aside from shamanism and a dash of voodoo from one certain scene, the film does deal with a priest in training in a central role with an evoking of “angels and demons”. This is where the film gets interesting. There are nods to The Walking Dead, but the finale, which just has to be seen to be believed, has the “angels and demons” nod to a tee and provides a major twist that not is unexpected but is exactly why this is perhaps one of best Korea’s best thrillers to date.

The Wailing will stand the tests of time as a definitely horror gem thanks to its performances from the cast as well as the whole religion riff and shocking twist in the finale that just can be described as mind-blowing. If you like mystery films with a twist, this is one for your collection or watch list.


20th Century Fox (Korea) presents an Ivanhoe Pictures presentation in association with Side Mirror Entertainment. Director: Na Hong-Jin. Producers: Suh Dong-Hyun and Kim Ho-Sung. Writer: Na Hong-Jin. Cinematography: Hong Kyung-Pyo. Editing: Kim Sun-Min.

Cast: Kwak Do Won, Hwang Jeong-Min, Jun Kunimura, Chun Woo-Hee, Kim Hwan-Hee.