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Film / The Wailing

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"See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

The Wailing (Goksung in the original Korean) is a 2016 South Korean horror film written and directed by Na Hong-jin (director of The Chaser).

The rural village of Goksung, South Korea, is experiencing an epidemic of savage murders committed by people who seem to have contracted a mysterious disease. While the local police claims toxic mushrooms are the cause, rumors start accusing an old Japanese hermit (Jun Kunimura) of being the one responsible. When officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do-won) realizes his daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee) is showing the same symptoms as the other perpetrators, he teams up with shaman Il-gwang (Hwang Jung-min) to protect his family, all the while a mysterious woman (Chun Woo-hee) gives him cryptic clues about the true nature of the danger...

The movie is also known as The Strangers in some markets, not to be confused with the 2008 home invasion movie of the same name.

This film contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Human: The Shaman. He seems like an ordinary enough human despite his line of work, but the ending of the film reveals that he was in league with the Japanese stranger (who is really a demon/the Devil). We aren't given any indication that he's not human, but when he comes into the presence of Moo-myung, his nose begins bleeding uncontrollably and he begins coughing up blood and vomit. Given that Moo-myung is a benevolent spirit or maybe even a goddess, it's possible that he too is a demon in disguise. There's also the possibility that as he is in the service of evil (the Demon/Devil) holiness/goodness afflicts him and perhaps precisely because he isn't supernatural Moo-myung's power has an even stronger effect on him than it does on the Demon/Devil.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The movie's opening cards display the Biblical quote at the top of this page. The Japanese man recites the same verses in his final scenes as he reveals his true form.
  • Auto Erotica: Jong-goo has sex with his neighbor in the car to avoid suspicion but he gets spotted by his daughter anyway.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Il-Gwang and the Japanese man have succeeded in massacring the village and ensuring that Jong-Goo and his daughter do not go out peacefully.
  • Bald of Evil: The Japanese man is bald, and even if he isn't the one behind the curse, is still a cruel, demonic being.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Sort of applies when you consider that the lovely but mysterious Moo-myung is a benevolent spirit/goddess/angel and that the somewhat disheveled Japanese stranger turns out to be a genuine demon/the Devil. The beautiful young lady is good while the older, unkempt man is evil.
  • Big Bad: The unnamed Japanese hermit turns out to be the dark force stalking the town.
  • Big Good: Moo-myung. She repels evil beings and is trying to help put a stop to the evil that plagues the village. She could be seen as a guardian spirit or even a goddess from a traditional Korean religious perspective. From a Western/Christian perspective, you could consider her an angel or perhaps even a representation of God.
  • Classical Antihero: Officer Jong-goo is a fat, bumbling officer who can't get anything right, completely panics when he has to restrain a lone frail woman, gets no respect from his family or superiors, and according to one comment from his wife isn't exactly spectacular in bed either. It's only when his daughter falls victim to a curse that he has to Take a Level in Badass to try and save her.
  • Clueless Deputy: Officer Jong-goo starts the movie as a fat, bumbling idiot who constantly shows up late at crime scenes, forgets to take his rain coat when it's clearly pouring outside, can't take any initiative on his own and needs to be told everything, and is so terrified by a lone, frail (though very Ax-Crazy) woman that he's completely unable to do anything to defend himself, let alone to restrain her and ends up lying on the ground, embarrassing himself and all the police force at once. One of the point of the movie is to show how far he's willing to change when his family is in danger. He is still better than his own deputy, who is about as cowardly and needs to be told not to manhandle a murder weapon.
  • Creepy Child: Hyo-jin, after being possessed.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: Jong-goo ignores Moo-myung's warning and returns home, to find that his daughter has been taken over by the demonic influence and has murdered her mother and grandmother; Jong-goo is mortally wounded by her upon seeing all this. It's shown that the Japanese stranger was a demon (perhaps even the Devil himself) after all and that the shaman was working for/with him to make this all happen.
  • Demonic Possession: There are rumors that a demon is attacking their village, despite the police department's conclusion that the violence is caused by hallucinogenic mushrooms. Later, the demon possesses Hyo-Jin and makes her kill her family.
  • Devil in Disguise: The Japanese stranger is initially believed to be a ghost/wicked spirit, but the truth is far more frightening; he's a genuine demon, possibly even the Devil himself.
  • Downer Ending: Jong-Goo is manipulated by Ill-Gwang to not listen to Moo-Myeong, who was the Big Good all along. The result leads to Hyo-jin murdering her mother and grandmother and then Jong-Goo. It's also implied from the last victim she'll die along with them too, all while Ill-Gwang and the Japanese hermit getting away scot free.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: At the end, Il-Gwang, the shaman who had been helping Jong-Goo, was revealed to be on the same side as the evil spirit/devil that was tormenting his daughter.
  • Ethereal White Dress: While investigating a crime scene, Officer Jong-goo meets a strange woman wearing a white robe who throws rocks at him and tell him that the strange Japanese man living alone in the woods is the culprit, before disappearing. She turns out to be some kind of local deity trying to protect the village against the stranger, who might be The Devil himself, to no avail.
  • Evil All Along: Toward the end of the movie, Il-Gwang tells Jong-Goo that he made a mistake when identifying who is behind the curse of the village. He thought it was the Japanese hermit, when it was in fact the nameless woman in white who appeared to Jong-Goo at the start. However, the ending reveals that he was lying and 'he' was the secretly evil one.
  • Evil Laugh: The Japanese man gives a truly sinister laugh to the priest as he turns into his true (?) form.
  • Fiery Cover-Up: The Japanese burned all the photographs of his victims before Jong-goo could confiscate them.
  • Ghost Story: Jong-Goo's colleague at the police station tells him a ghost story that has been circulating around the village about a strange, terrifying man in the woods who eats raw flesh.
  • God Is Good: For the given value of "God" anyway. Moo-myung is a holy being determined to put a stop to the evil that torments the village and is visibly dismayed when Jong-goo does not heed her warnings during the film's climax. Whatever she is meant to be, guardian spirit, goddess, angel, or even God, she's just trying to help.
  • God Was My Copilot: Moo-myung turns out to be a benevolent spirit and/or deity who was trying to put a stop to the evil transpiring in the village. From a Christian/Western perspective, you might even interpret her as an angel or even God.
  • Good Wears White: Moo-myung is the Big Good and is seen wearing a white dress.
  • The Hermit: The Japanese man suspected for the deaths lives in an old decrepit house in the woods near the village of Goksong.
  • The Hero Dies: Jong-Goo is stabbed to death by his possessed daughter.
  • Holy Burns Evil: A case where it's actually a holy person and not an object that repels evil. When the Shaman returns to the village, his nose begins bleeding profusely before Moo-myung emerges from the shadows. She commands him to leave and he begins to violently throw up blood and vomit before running away terrified. It initially makes it look as though Moo-myung is the evil one, but the film's climax reveals that the Japanese stranger really was a demon/the Devil and that the Shaman was working for/with him. The Shaman was repulsed by her because she was holy and he was evil; while it isn't shown, it's possible the Shaman is also a demon masquerading as a human.
  • Horrifying the Horror: When the Shaman returns to the village after the first ritual was called off, Moo-myung emerges from the shadows and angrily orders that he leave immediately. Her presence causes his nose to bleed uncontrollably and he begins to violently throw up blood and vomit before running away terrified. As the film's climax reveals that the Shaman was working for/with the demon/Devil that plagued the village and that Moo-myung is actually some kind of holy spirit and/or goddess, it works, especially if you consider that the Shaman may himself also be a demon.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Japanese man, and very likely the woman in white.
  • No Name Given: Two characters are never given real names. The woman in white who appears to Jong-goo is only named Moo-Myeong, which means "Lady with no name" in Korean, while the hermit she accuses of being responsible for all the recent deaths in Goksung is only referred to as "the stranger" or "the Japanese man". Appropriately, both turn out to be supernatural beings. Probably.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Moo-myung. While it's eventually revealed that the Japanese stranger as a legitimate demon (possibly the Devil himself), it's not as clear what she is meant to be. Given that she is determined to save the village from genuine evil and that she herself repels evil beings (the Shaman) it seems like she is a guardian spirit or perhaps even a goddess. From a Christian/Western point of view, you could interpret her as an angel, or perhaps a representation of God.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Japanese stranger usually looks like a normal old man, but when hunting in the wild he is pictured with red eyes (and also almost completely naked).
  • Religious Horror: The Wailing starts as a thriller taking place in a small Korean village, but the crimes are quickly rumored to be caused by something supernatural, and a Catholic priest as well as a shaman are called to defeat the source of the evil that has cursed the town. The director studied both Christianity and Korean shamanism thoroughly to be the most accurate possible, so that when the Japanese man reveals his true nature to the priest, followers of both religions would see him as the ultimate evil.
  • The Titling
  • Took a Level in Badass: The movie follows Jong-goo as he goes from ineffectual anti-hero to someone actually capable to defend himself and his family. Some moments illustrate this change:
    • At the start of the movie, a naked woman shows up at the police station in the middle of a stormy night, and Jong-goo is so terrified that he orders his deputy to look for her while he stays hidden behind his desk. At the end of the movie, he encounters the Woman of No-name, who he's been told is a powerful evil spirit responsible for all the deaths in the village, and while clearly scared he still stands his ground, look at her in the eye and demand answers from her.
    • When he first goes to meet the Stranger, Jong-goo is completely powerless against the latter's guard dog and is only saved when the Stranger gets back home, at which point Jong-goo just leaves without question. The second time he goes to the Stranger's cabin, Jong-goo easily kills the dog and openly threatens to do the same to the Stranger if the latter doesn't leave at once, and later Jong-goo leads a mob of angry people to do just that.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Hyo-jin starts acting like this after being possessed, complete with a Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book.
  • Wham Shot: The Japanese man takes a picture of Yang I-sam after he asks the man to show his true form. The next time we see the Japanese man take another picture, his hands are bright red and taloned.

Alternative Title(s): Goksung, Gokseong