Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE WAILING: Na Hong-jin's new everything-but-the-kitchen-sink thriller opens in theaters

What the hell has happened to that very good South Korean movie-maker, Na Hong-jin, between the time of his earlier films -- The Chaser (from 2008, a mostly first-class, if very dark and ugly thrill ride about kidnapping and murder) and The Yellow Sea (from 2010, an even darker but much quieter and more subtle exploration of the entwining of love, need and evil) -- and his latest effort, THE WAILING (Goksung)? I ask because Na's new film is the biggest embarrassment to South Korean cinema I've encountered since I first caught wind of that country's enormous moviemaking prowess around the turn of this past century. Since then, TrustMovies has watched most everything Korean he could find and had time for (including even the recent itty-bitty cable series, DramaWorld).

Even this film's title seems faintly ridiculous, as that wailing can only refer to what will most likely be the audience reaction: "When will this (spectacularly filmed) piece of shit finally end?!" Conflating -- just about as stupidly as possible -- everything from demons and ghosts to a stranger in town, serial murder, a daughter in danger, Christian parable, and so-help-me-god zombies, Mr. Na (shown at left), as both writer and director, seems suddenly taken with the toss-in-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink school of horror filmmaking. Yet there's not an original moment in the entire film.

Perhaps the supernatural thriller is not the proper genre for Na to tackle, as the result is very nearly the polar opposite to what his countryman, Bong Joon-ho, achieved with his own first-class try at a sci-fi thriller, 2014's Snowpiercer.

The biggest difference between the two films is that, in Bong's, we learn enough about almost all the characters to come to care about them; with Na's we learn so little that we can't begin to give a shit what happens to anyone (except maybe one little girl. Barely). The tale Na tells goes on for over two-and-one-half hours, and involves a small country town in which entire families are being murdered -- and by one of their own. What's going on?

The hero is played by that portly Korean "everyman" Kwak Do-won, above, right, and below, who proves as good as he's able to be as the not-terribly-bright policeman whose little daughter (below) comes under the spell of the principal bad guy. Of course, our burly cop is determined to get to the bottom of things -- which will take endless time for him (and endless patience on the part of us viewers).

The most time is spent with a local exorcist, Korean variety (below), who is soon dancing up a storm (the choreography is pretty good here!) trying to get rid of that naughty evil spirit. Toward the finale, he (and we) discover he's been barking up the wrong tree. Or maybe not. Reversals, then further reversals, do not in any way help the film's ridiculous plotting.

A big black dog (below) gets a good scene or two, and the movie is very well photographed (when have you seen a Korean film that was not?). But the South Korean penchant for length, coupled unfortunately to the obvious and repetitive, at last utterly sinks this barrage of blood, guts and heavy-duty disarray.

I can only hope that Mr. Na gets quickly back to what he's good at and leaves this kind of supernatural nonsense to those who know better how to handle it.

From Well Go USA Entertainment and running an unconscionable 156 minutes (yes!), The Wailing opens this Friday, June 3, in cities all across the country. In New York City, it is said to be playing the FSLC, the IFC Center and the AMC Empire 25; in Los Angeles, look for it at Laemmle's Monica Film Center and Playhouse 7 and at the AMC Atlantic Time Square. Here in South Florida? Nowhere at all. (Guess we don't have a large enough Korean population). Elsewhere in the USA? Absolutely. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates with cities and theaters.

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