Goksung (The Wailing )Cannes Film Festival 2016
This is a narratively unbalanced and frankly unhinged picture by Cannes favourite Na Hong-Jin. It involves frightful plagues, demonic possessions, gruesome zombies, appalling massacres – and mushrooms. The first act plays like a surreal comedy, before the film descends into a thumping, incessant and horrific drama. Rain powers down, the bloodshed mounts and the wailing grows louder. For much of the last act, the noise is deafening. There is little time to take in the remarkable tonal shift, and by the point the battling shamans attempt to expel the devil it is easy to forget the buddy cop movie that was developing in the opening stages.
High up in the mountains of South Korea, cowardly policeman Jong-Goo (a permanently spluttering Kwak Do-Won) is investigating a series of mysterious and grotesque murders. Previously upstanding citizens appear to be driven insane and pushed to butcher their families. The arrival of a Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura) in the hills – a very explicit display of the other – causes concern among the villagers that this distant, taciturn man is behind the various attacks. Then, Jong-Goo’s young daughter is possessed and begins wreaking her own special type of havoc. Under pressure from his mother, Jong-Goo employs a local shaman named Il-Gwang (in a ridiculous, over-the-top performance from Hwang Jun-Min) to ward off the evil spirits that have overcome his child. Meanwhile, a mysterious young woman in white (Chun Woo-Hee), who ghosts intermittently about the wreckage, appears to have supreme powers of her own.
To make too much sense of the plot would be perhaps a mistake. The enterprise, detail and expansiveness of Goksung is an experience to behold. The audio and visual effects are stunning, particularly in the shaman hex sequences, where the drumbeat and choreography merge to produce something resembling nausea. There is a tendency for the dialogue to tell you precisely what you are seeing – “there’s been a power cut again!” – and the film’s rapidly building insanity takes a large amount of goodwill to accept. But the dramatic denouement certainly resonates. Whether this is due to sensory overload or dramatic skill, however, is open to dispute.
Goksung does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Goksung here: