The Wailing

Before I saw The Wailing I had seen it described as one of the scariest Asian movies of the decade – that sort of widespread feedback is enough to get me excited and wary at the same time, and by thirty minutes in to the movie I was wondering if I had accidentally selected another Korean movie with the same name, a comedy caper which was nevertheless entertaining. That’s what most of the reviews don’t tell you – The Wailing isn’t just a horror movie – it’s a comedy, it’s a drama, and it’s a tragic character study which will suck you in and spit you out if you allow yourself to be swallowed.

There’s a certain cultural divide you have to be prepared for when going into most foreign cinema. Sometimes an Asian film can be straight enough and universal enough to be fully understood by any viewer, and sometimes there can be quirky moments or pieces of dialogue or character traits which seem alien. Most of the time if the film is good enough, interesting enough, these can be overlooked or even enhance our viewing and become something a Western viewer looks forward to. When you watch a film with a certain historical or political context, or in the case of The Wailing, with numerous instances of Asian folklore, it can become a little overwhelming. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost in places while watching The Wailing – coming from someone who considers themselves a seasoned viewer of Asian Cinema. I feel like I can’t give an adequate synopsis of the plot due to this, and also due to wanting to avoid spoilers/mystery. All you need to know is that it’s about a small Korean town/village policeman and father who is investigating a mysterious sickness which has been sweeping through the town, coinciding with the arrival of a Japanese man.

The film has received universal acclaim from critics and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it too, even if I didn’t absorb everything I could have on first viewing. I suspect more of the puzzle pieces will become clear on a second viewing, possibly uncovering more of the Asian folklore and nods to Christianity. The film passes two and a half hours long and I feel like some of the early scenes could have been saved to get the film closer to a 120 minute run time. 150 mins plus is a long time for a horror film to retain scares and dread and threat and that opening half an hour or so almost feels like a different film, with bumbling keystone cop antics at loose character info eventually giving way to the procedural, the macabre, the horror. Mystery and myth intertwine and a father who seems careless and distant is forced to reevaluate his life and priorities in a race against time, but deception and intrigue seem to thwart him at every turn. Is it scary? There are moments, set pieces, both early on and towards the end which will scare or chill, but once the main plot picks up steam it is that sense of unearthly dread and tension which will get under your skin. The film is so well acted, so beautifully crafted, that it should unnerve even the most hardcore horror viewer – just don’t go in expecting jump scares and knife attacks. Expect the unexpected, expect provocation, and expect lots of reading up on the film after watching. I expect you’ll love it.


*Originally reviewed in 2014 based on a free copy provided by Amazon – buy it here!


As a big Asian movie fan, this was one I was looking forward to. However, as is often the case with, some may say, niche films, taglines and blurbs surrounding the movie are sensationalist and prone to hyperbole. I’d heard and read that this was shocking, brutal, emotionally draining, and bleak, but really only one of those terms is fully accurate, while the other three will depend on the viewer – those used to such niche films will likely not be shocked, horrified, or drained. The movie is bleak though, a dark story focusing on scum and the exploited, and there isn’t really a glimpse of light or hope throughout. It is however well made, well acted, and while I wouldn’t say there were many surprises, it did keep me thoroughly engaged throughout, and eager to see how it all ended.

The film follows a thuggish orphan who preys on the weak in his role as a debt collector. His apathy and underlying rage lead him to violence towards those who cannot pay him, and a complete lack of care for his horrible actions. Out of nowhere, a woman claiming to be his mother shows up, full of apologies, and with an eerily apathetic determination to get into his life. There isn’t much more to say about what follows – there is bonding, and the repeated recurrences of past evils, and a strong conclusion. It is difficult to feel sympathy towards any of the characters here, and I’m not sure if it was the director’s intent to ever let us contemplate feeling sympathy – maybe only the sympathy a normal ‘good’ person would be expected to feel towards someone, even a monster, who is in pain. You will likely be conflicted, but maybe that will be more down to the confused plotting and intent rather than the issues at work. It is brilliantly cold, feels very authentic, and is a brooding, dank, descent into a seedy underworld of revenge, held together by a couple of strong leading performances.


Have you seen Pieta? Where does it rank among South Korea’s other recent revenge thrillers? Let us know in the comments!