It’s been six years since Na Hong-jin made his second feature The Yellow Sea, and eight since his debut feature, the splendid police procedural The Chaser. These two, and his new film The WaIling (South Korea, 2016 , 150 minutes) are all films from deep in the heart of the commercial industry. They are also films which engage very strongly with modern Korea.
I was warned that I might find The Waling somewhat hard going. At two and a half hours it takes its time in unravelling a story set the backblocks where superstitions reign and the local shaman makes a nice living reading tossed rice and performing exorcisms. A series of gruesome murders are at the heart of the movie but the local cop who has to deal with the mayhem mostly seems to trail in a confused wake. His investigatory skills seem modest and he is in a domestic situation where wife, mother-in-law and daughter are all on his case. The his own domestics get involved in the proceedings as ghosts, good and bad, appear and seek to lead, confuse and befuddle. The cop’s daughter falls under a spell and the shaman’s exorcism goes awry.
All of this is done in Na’s standard realism. He makes solid stories. The breakouts here into magic are minor and you get the sense that Na’s greater interests are in the corrupt and lazy police force and the village politics. Still, whatever the chosen emphases he wrote and directed the movie and was allowed to put his very lengthy cut out into the market.
The film has already played some multiplexes in Sydney and its inclusion in the Korean Film Festival doesn’t add a huge amount to the event which already has plenty of similar product from the commercial arm of Korean film-making. Still a decent crowd came out, stayed alert and the local Koreans found some humour that sailed over the heads of the anglos in attendance.