Soon after a Japanese man arrives at a small Korean village, a strange sickness begins to spread, turning its victims into rabid animals. A policeman named Jong-goo is sucked into the mystery and must solve it in order to save his daughter, which involves teaming up with a shaman.
Wow, what a ride.
The beginning of the film establishes a family living in a village whose tranquility is shattered by a horrible murder. Jong-goo lives with his wife, mother-in-law and young daughter Hyo-jin. Jong-goo is a policeman but not very good at it, in fact he’s a bit cowardly. He loves his precocious daughter but seems to be putting up with everything else in his life. Then he becomes aware of a Japanese man who recently came to the village, sees him in a dream, and Hyo-jin becomes infected with the same disease, changing everything.
The story becomes a battle between several players–the Japanese man, a mysterious woman dressed in white and a shaman who looks like a Korean John Snow, with Jong-goo and his family caught in the middle. Jong-goo transitions into a ferocious if sometimes misguided tiger, fighting anyone he thinks is hurting his Hyo-jin, who is the only thing that matters to him.
The last act is extremely powerful, dark and confusing. The director drops Biblical clues but otherwise edited the film precisely to make you question what’s happening and who the good and bad guys are–and what they are. Shamans, gods, demons, ghosts? I found a few interesting explanations here. Otherwise, Google “the wailing ending explained” and you’ll find lots of theories. If you watch the movie, it’s highly likely you will indeed do that search.
Because the film is extremely powerful. The first act provides a powerful inciting incident (the grisly murder) and rich characterization in the family. After Hyo-jin becomes infected and the family enlists the aid of a shaman, the pace becomes frantic as good and evil battle on and off screen, and Jong-goo battles the only way he knows how, with his fists. The last act is edge-of-your-seat emotional storytelling. As warned, catharsis is delivered at the dark ending, but you will have more seething questions than answers. Be sure to watch it with a friend so you can discuss it afterwards, as you’ll most certainly need to.
Check out THE WAILING if you’re interested in something your eyes can enjoy that also hits your brain sideways.