Sublime: The Wailing

The Wailing (2016)
Written and directed by Hong-jin Na
Produced by Suh Dong Hyun, Ho Sung Kim, Xian Li, John Penotti, Robert Friedland
Starring Do-won Kwak, So-yeon Jang, Jun Kunimura, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim, Jung-min Hwang, Kang-gook Son, Do-yoon Kim, Jin Heo, Seong-yeon Park, Chang-gyu Kil, Bae-soo Jeon, Mi-nam Jeong, Gwi-hwa Choi

“It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.”

–H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916

Attentive viewers (especially those versed in Catholic scripture and Korean folk sortilege) will best appreciate the innuendo of Na’s creepingly circuitous chiller, but such insights can’t conduce prospicience of its outcome. A village’s police are confounded when locals are sanguinely slain by ensorcelled relatives, who then succumb to grisly afflictions. This unaccountable spate coincides with sightings of an earthy, impertinent beauty (Chun) and an old Japanese (Kunimura), the latter of whom is a subject of macabre and concordant scuttlebutt. When the daughter (Kim) of the force’s sluggardly sergeant (Kwak) manifests incipient behavioral and dermal symptoms common to the doomed murderers, he’s desperate to interrogate both strangers. Refreshing restraint and professional calculation characterize Na’s masterly direction, which discloses minimally in slow zooms and pans as his plotted convolutions gradually unravel, without ever relaxing the intensity of his drama or action. By Kyung-pyo Hong’s photography, South Korea’s sylvestrian beauty is blazoned in establishing landscapes, and many figures are strikingly limned in silhouette and shadow. The cast is exceeding, but its concerted excellence admits of certain standouts. Kunimura’s internationally recognized for his versatility as villains and victims alike; his stony stare and mutable mien here sustain his loner’s imperative mystique. A dynamically antipodal approach by Hwang to a shaman hired by Kwak’s deviled officer informs his energic exorcism preceding the movie’s centerpiece, a clamorously violent, elaborate, apotropaic rite not to be forgotten. Kim’s metamorphosis from sweet schoolgirl into maledicted malefactor recalls Linda Blair’s most famous role — and she interprets it with analogous anguish and audacity. All of the seven deadly sins are committed, but their significance is primarily representative. Na’s moral compass is pragmatically oriented, indicating how obtuse skepticism, inaction, misjudgment, and hysteria result in a small, appalling tragedy. These misdeeds frustrate the talismanic and lustrative white magic that might’ve dashed demonomagy conjured by and thriving for vice, folly, and confusion.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Exorcist.

Sublime: Like Father, Like Son

Like Father, Like Son (2013)
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
Produced by Kaoru Matsuzaki, Hijiri Taguchi, Megumi Osawa, Tatsuro Hatanaka, Chihiro Kameyama, Tom Yoda, Chiaki Harada, Satomi Odake, Yasushi Ogawa
Starring Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Lily Franky, Yoko Maki, Keita Ninomiya, Shogen Hwang, Jun Kunimura, Yuri Nakamura, Kazuya Takahashi, Kirin Kiki, Jun Fubuki, Isao Natsuyagi
Any brief of another flower effloresced from Kore-eda’s preoccupation with familial misadventures and their reverberations reads as that of timeworn, televised fayre via Lifetime: two irreconcilably unlike families headed respectively by a stuffy, operose architect (Fukuyama) and a jovial, lovably scruffy shopkeeper and electrician (Franky) are shaken to learn that two of their sons (Ninomiya, Hwang) were at birth covertly commuted by a nurse (Takahashi). Social convention dictates that the boys be restituted to their cognate nuclear units, but six years of parental intimacy stay all involved, and their woe is only aggravated by contradistinctions of class and constitution: Fukuyama’s aloof, white-collar striver disdains the lenience, uxoriousness and relative impecuniousness of Franky’s working-class handyman, who in turn contemns with his assertive wife (Maki) the corporate cog’s fatherly inattention in pursuit of professional projects. For all their failings and recriminations fermented by reciprocal misapprehensions, none among them are unsympathetic; the overachiever’s no more callous than his demurely adoring spouse (Ono), and oscillations and frivolity belie the depth of his counterpart’s paternal perspicacity. Once preponderate in civilized cinema beyond Hollywood’s orbit, Kore-eda’s strain of sentimentality is rooted in realism, its poignance piercing far deeper for an economy of expression, nested in precisely composed perspective shots, slow zooms, drifting pans in rich high contrast. He unsoundly deprecates consanguinity as a mere priority of obsolescent tradition in a culture where it may be taken for granted in the luxury of social and ethnic cohesion, but in doing so postulates an equally vital insight: beneath the burdensome strata of lineage, expectations and ambition, the hearts of children and their parents need beat no slower, nor at all asynchronous for that weight.