Monday, June 06, 2016

The Wailing

So, here's what I don't get - if Twentieth Century Fox can finance a sleek, smart, expansive supernatural thriller in South Korea, why aren't we seeing more of them in the United States? I sort of get it when Warner Brothers is financing a big manga adaptation in Japan - that's basically them bringing their big studio resources to a major project - but this is kind of a boutique thriller. I suspect that this sort of thing breaks out as a hit in Korea more than it does in the U.S., but I cannot imagine how Fox would allow this thing to be 139 minutes in America (which is why it winds up distributed by Well Go, I guess).

Nice crowd, especially for a Sunday night where you're going out into some rain. We don't get a lot of Korean cinema here compared to American - the films made by big names hold out for a more prestigious label that will give them a better boutique-house release, and the likes of CJ have not managed to build the distribution infrastructure that the Chinese and Indian guys have. I'm really hoping that this sticks around an extra week, though - it's tough to fit into schedules but deserves a chance (and the word of mouth) to have more people try.

Goksung (The Wailing)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2016 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Na Hong-jin has material for several nifty thrillers in The Wailing and they don't entirely come together into a cohesive whole despite having plenty of time to do so in a movie that, even by Korean standards, is kind of a long sit for a genre film. What makes it kind of brilliant is that this is clearly by design - Na wants certain things to be impossible to understand, and he's got the talent to make this a satisfying part of the movie rather than a cop-out.

As it opens, police sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) is being called to a crime scene, but it's early, and his wife (Jang So-yeon) and mother-in-law (Heo Jin) insist that he sit down for breakfast first. It's a disturbing scene - two people dead, the apparent perpetrator outside the home in some sort of fugue state - and there will be more like it in the coming days. Many in the town blame a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who has just moved into a cabin on the outskirts, and the words of a possible witness (Chun Woo-hee) lead the police in that direction. And while Jong-gu is initially doubtful, what he finds when he, partner Oh Sung-bok (Son Kang-kuk), and Yang Yi-sam (Kim Do-yoon), Oh's nephew brought along to translate, investigate that cabin is quite disturbing. In the meantime, the symptoms observed in the others who have gone violently insane are starting to show up in Jong-gu's ten-year-old daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), leading his mother in law to call in a shaman (Hwang Jung-min).

There may be actual detectives investigating the killings, but Jong-gu is a uniformed officer, doing things like guarding the crime scene or handling crowd control, and while it's possible that the town of Gokseung (in Korean, a homophone of "Goksung", or "Wailing") is just too small to have investigators, it sort of makes more sense that he's simply on the periphery, not that important in the grand scheme of things, and too much a slightly out-of-shape guy with ready excuses for being late all the time to make one believe that any supernatural force is targeting Hyo-jin as retribution. Randomness can be more unnerving than purpose, even when it's harder to make dramatically satisfying.

Full review on EFC.

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