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The Wailing (곡성) explained | Do you ever struggle with faith?

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Reader Interactions


  1. This movie was great because days after I watched it in still hit with these “oh shit” moments like the transference ritual. Thanks for pointing that out. Made it all more unsettling.
    I think that moo myeung was actually chasing the “stranger” instead of him chasing her and the stranger ran off the cliff and fell onto the car since falling down rocky ravines is a recurring theme for the characters lol probably because of the mountainous terrain.

    • Haha that is a motif isn’t it? The one guy falling in the woods. The other guy falling in the woods. Multiple people falling in the woods. That’s pretty hilarious. Yeah, I do lean towards her chasing him!

      • That was a phenomenal analysis. I’ve seen this movie 6 or 7 times now since it came out, but the last time I checked we were all just on Reddit trying to piece this together. This article feels like the final refinement of all our sleuthing.

        I want to say, while it’s impossible to know the director’s intent with the timing issue regarding Jong-goo’s family, I think it certainly fits that his family could be doomed, and the Woman in White still be good. I am thinking about that question of faith again; can you trust in someone to do what’s best for the collective, even if it means lying to you?

        Could the Woman in White have known his family was lost already, and be grieving that she failed to close this cycle with this family? Her failure here could imply that another family will have to die for her to ensnare this demon.

        My question is, if this is the case, does this truly render the Woman in White no longer a “good character”?

  2. This was an amazing analysis, thank you so much I really enjoyed it!

    Do you think it’s possible that Moo-myung was actually trying to bait The Stranger to save the town, and not necessarily the individual families? I say this because it would explain a couple of things:
    1. Why does The Stranger land on the truck: she actually pushes Park Choon-bae (in the body of The Stranger) off so that Jong-goo does commit the sin, as Jong-goo lost him in the chase. She needs Jong-goo to commit the sin in order to trap the demon, as she knows the demon’s plan to possess the child at the end. She possibly isn’t doing this out of evil, but to set up a trap for the demon at the house at the end of the film.
    2. Was Jong-goo’s family dead before he left the Woman in White: This would explain this time inconsistency. The family was bound to die at this point, however the trap could still capture the demon, stopping him from causing any more harm. In this way, Moo-myung is trying to stop the demon out of benevolence, but at the cost of Jong-goo’s family.

    In summary, it’s possible Moo-myung was good but uses both Park Choon-bae and Jong-goo to try and permanently stop the demon.

    • Thanks, Shaun! It’s definitely possible. And the movie is open-ended enough to allow for that reading. I think I’d still lean more towards her actually trying to save the family and the movie just hoping we don’t worry too much about logistics lol. Christopher Nolan does that kind of thing all the time.

  3. Great article! It’s was awesome to read. I just wanted to add my thoughts.

    I believe the photographs the stranger and the shaman take is a method by which they capture the villager’s souls. Many cultures believed that there was a connection between photos and the soul when the technology was new. In fact, I believe this was the primary goal of the stranger: to collect the souls of the sinful to take back to hell.

    There’s a lot of animosity between Koreans and the Japanese, especially in the southern areas of Korea. Choosing the form of a Japanese man is a good way to raise hate and fear among the villager’s further priming them for sinful acts. Choosing the south also helped greatly as the authorities are less experienced and sloppy, which is shown throughout the film. If the stranger was in Seoul he would be facing veteran detectives who might track him down more quickly.

    The shaman is twice seen traveling along a curving, serpent-like road perhaps hinting at his true nature.

    My only questions are of course about the ending, but also about the zombified Park Choon bae. During the fight with Jong-goo and crew he suddenly “dies”. What happened? Did the woman in white neutralize him? Did the transference spell run out? If the spell expired why didn’t he return to his body, displacing Choon-bae’s soul?

    But yeah. I’m at a loss about the timing of when Jong-goo returns home to his family already slaughtered. I watched it again and all I can come up with is that Jong-goo may have been further from home than we think.

    I’m also at a loss as to how and why the stranger hit the windshield. If he would’ve slipped he wouldn’t have hit the windshield like that. He would’ve simply rolled out into the road. He was in the air when he got hit, implying either a jump or a throw.

    Moo myung could’ve done it so Jong-goo could sin and thus setup the trap. Destroying his body might also prevent him from appearing in public until he can heal, which would prevent him from gathering more personal items from people to continue the corruption. The stranger also could’ve jumped to tease Jong-goo into sinning. The shaman did say “the rat fell into the trap” right after they dumped the body.

    Moo-myung also looked at the truck where the wounded deacon was at the end of the scene. She might have been the one who coerced him into action by putting images into his mind.

  4. Something I’ve never seen mentioned is that when we are introduced to the Woman In White she is “casting stones” at Jong-goo which implies he is a “sinner” and also that she is “without sin”.

  5. Clarifies a lot. Nice one Donald reg. stone casting. Thanks.

  6. wow. i am so thankful i found and read this page. really explained a lot…
    and the stone casting, niceeee

  7. Such a complex yet so beautiful film.

  8. Thank you very much for this work. It heightened my appreciation of the film, which was a welcome development! That it was actually a transference ritual the Stranger was performing — wow, what a revelation. Also Donald’s comment about casting stones! Regarding the timing confusion at the end, am I recalling correctly the Woman in White basically says if Jong-goo goes to his home before the rooster crows the third time his whole family will die? Maybe it only meant he would save himself if he waited (so, not the *whole* family).

    • Wow just have to give major props on an incredibly well thought out summarization. Reading through this helped explain every piece of the movie that I was questioning. Incredibly well done.

      • Thanks, Josh!

    • Bravo!

      Great analyzation friend!!

  9. Great movie but I didn’t like the ending. To me it didn’t make sense. The secret to a great twist at the ending is that when you think back to the events throughout the movie, they are congruent. The most congruent ending is that they are ALL evil and they are fighting over who gets to kill the villagers.

    Most striking plot hole that was even brought up by the main character is “why was he a sinner and therefore guilty before he even did anything wrong?” He really had no chance. He correctly identified the evil spirit, tried to destroy it, hired a shaman, and by the end of the movie he is sitting surrounded by his families corpses. Clearly the religious men at the church were useless so he really didn’t have any other choices. They wouldn’t even acknowledge the existence of an evil spirit. The woman in white was living right next to him yet she didn’t even pop round to tell him the shaman was evil. If she was trying to gain his trust maybe don’t act like a drug dealer living in a crack house.

    Here is a few more questions:
    If the Jap was the devil, why did he let the man at the beginning of the movie live, wouldn’t he take his soul too?

    Why did the woman in white let the shaman leave if her entire goal is to trap him, she basically had him incapacitated but then said ‘you are free to leave?’
    If the woman in the white is the village spirit of protection, why didn’t she warm the shaman was evil earlier on? Seemingly he had been involved in other rituals at the village. And perhaps most importantly if the shaman is repeatedly coming into your village and people are dying after his rituals WHY ON EARTH would he be considered the best shaman around?

    This is how I would have liked to see the ending of the movie. The Jap summons a zombie, then the zombie infects the priest, he then infects the entire hospital (no better place to start a zombie outbreak)… Dawn of the dead ensues.

    • The article does address the reverse order of sin thing because in this article it shows that the demon was in the zombie, and choon bae’s soul was in the old man’s, so regardless that he did not know he was killing an innocent man, he did.

      But, I also agree some of the choices like the timing of the stakes in the totem and the japanese man writhing, alongside the strange timing near the end where it seems like most of his family was long dead before he leaves the lady in white were just lazy and or deceptive storytelling and not good. The plot will always feel murky because as you said the twist is supposed to tie up all the loose ends and in this case, it somewhat falls on its face.

      • Yeah. I still think of it as a genius movie. Just not a perfect movie.

  10. Great write-up here. I think the Woman in White has to have thrown the stranger onto Jonggu’s roof. Why? I’d say it’s one of those Biblical tests that the movie is throwing at people. Will he do the right thing and help a dying man? Or fail the test completely, as he does. Perhaps if he’d succeeded he would have been a strong ally. As it goes, he becomes a liability.

  11. I think this is why the woman in black throws rocks to Jong-Goo when they first met:

    “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
    (Matthew 16:18)

    For me this explains almost everything, that we see in this movie later.

    • That’s really interesting!

  12. If possible, try providing this stuff on a youtube channel as well. It can be another source of revenue for you, since many people prefer watching videos and your way of explaining is good.

    • Hey, Prateek! We’re going to try converting some of these to YouTube videos in 2022!

  13. Hey ! What a great article ! Thank you for explaining so much. I finished the movie yesterday evening and it was really scary. The slow pace, the ending.. freaked me out. I had a nightmare, fought some demon, talking in my dream as i woke up and saw something on the ceiling in the dark. But my dog was with me so i went back to sleep calm . 🙂 It was scary ! It is really a great movie ! Anyways, i just wanted to add : Why does the stranger land on the truck ? Maybe that was also just a trick from the Stranger, where he tricked the ( angel ? ) women in white too. She didnt expect that to happen after the chase. So he tricked her and the main character at once. Or if it was intentional from the women in white and the Stranger. From both sides, because faith has to be challenged. It’s a challenge from God and the evil side at once to see who wins ? The man has to choose. Without this challenge there wouldn’t be a fight between good and evil ( for souls ). Man has to make a free choice. So the women in white had to let this happen. I don’t know…Your version, when you are saying that the women in white is also setting a trap seems also valid. That he cannot save the family, she just wants to catch the demon. Or maybe it is about letting things go. Sometimes to protect yourself from evil, all you need is to turn your head and not listen. Let it act on it’s own and not participate. Because when you participate, even when you try to fight it, you can get lost too. Sink, get corrupted, etc. You just have to be happy on your own and give a big sh.t about it. That is how you protect yourself. Something like this. Anyways, thank you for the article, this movie is really something, gave back my faith that good movies still exist ! I don’t watch Hollywood crap anymore. I don’t think I have been in a cinema in 10 years… So south koreans are really cool, i recently found a series called 2 days 1 night. Makes me laugh all the time. It’s a show teaching about South Korea and also it’s packed with silly games to make you laugh. I recommend season 2, it really has a good team. I found a site where you can find all the episodes. …. Thanks again, this movie felt a bit like Twin Peaks where you have to put things together on your own.

  14. I’m thinking the girl killed the family at the moment the dad decides to leave before the third crow call, before he get in the car.. And that the scene of the protection stuff shrivelling when he enters the yard was for creative effect. The protection was already gone at the moment he decided to go home.

    • maybe the rooster crows means three lifes gone. so the third life to be taken was supposed to be shaman? that was a trap set up by Woman in White perhaps.

      • You could maybe try to make a more specific argument for that. But at the very least it’s the Bible reference. Anything else is just interpretation, guessing.

  15. Wow, that was a great analysis ! I just saw the movie in Brussels Korean film Festival tonight and was craving for more informations, thank you so much !!

    There is also something I can’t explain. There is this scene where we learn about the rape the stranger commited on the woman who hanged herself.
    When the rape is described, we can clearly see that there are people behind the stranger and the woman while the rape is commited. No one seems to help her.
    And then, even after that, the stranger still remains free, as everyone seems to know he raped the woman. The police does nothing, and even when they learn about this fact in the restaurant, they don’t really seem to care.
    But we should know, then, that the Stranger is some kind of evil, like, I mean, he raped a woman, we could keep this in mind. So why do we doubt that much during the movie ? And why do we (both the characters and us) totally forgot about this information, or, at least, consider it as insignificant
    Maybe I’m overthinking, but seeing how Na Hong Jin describes the justice/police in The Chaser, I was thinking that it could be some kind of criticism of that system letting a rapist (and the devil himself actually) free, and another play with our conscience : we are always trying to look for the good and for the redemption inside people, so we are more likely to close our eyes and forgot about the rape. I think this is a fact : we don’t want to accept that the Stranger is the devil, until the last minute, when we are forced to admit it. During the movie, when Na Hong Jin was telling us that maybe the shaman is right and the woman in white is evil, I felt a bit like “we should know and, given the informations, we are able to know, but in fact we don’t want to know, we want to hope”.

    I’m not sure at all. But this forgotten narration of the rape stays in my mind ! I mean, it must be significant, and what was the point…? What do you think ? I would love to hear from you.

    Have a nice week-end everyone ! (and sorry if my english is not perfect, I’m french !)

    • Hey there, I’m not really that knowledgeable about the movie and Korean / Japanese history in general, but I think that the theme of the rape was chosen for a reason.

      Indeed, during the invasion of Korea by the Japanese (from 1910 to 1945), a lot of women were raped, and this is still a point of dissent between Koreans and Japanese nowadays.

      Thus, I guess that the image of the rape was a way to tie this into this history, and makes it look like people are just projecting evils on the Stranger, as it would be kinda cliché to accuse a Japanese man of rape out of all the crimes he could have committed. This really bugged me during the movie, and made me think that, perhaps, the Stranger was being framed, and I think that it was the director’s goal with this particular accusation.

      Oh, and your English is pretty much perfect, don’t worry about it 🙂 (Coming from another french 🙂 )

  16. Stretching, but I could theorize that the Japanese man being thrown from the cliff with her remaining up there was similar to Satan being cast out of heaven. Maybe it was a sign that the father missed, being too consumed with rage, and he missed the clue to the final decision. Seems possible if you think other biblical clues to the woman were inserted earlier in the movie.

    I also wonder if say someone like me, a random USA guy, stumbled across the Japanese man in the universe of the movie, would I have even seen him as the Japanese man? Or would I have seen whatever image of evil is unique to my own culture? Does the devil take on the appearance of the classic devil because he allows the priest to see his form, or does the devil have no control over it, and people project what they want or expect to see, until they have such a revelation as the priest?

    Ive been watching lots of horror movies in Amazon prime, and in so many, you can call the twist like 30 minutes in. Looking for all the usual cheap plot devices in Hollywood ones probably cost me the chance to think about what the clues were.

    Anyways, thanks for the write up.

  17. Wasn’t his sin bringing doom on the family having the affair on his wife that his daughter witnessed? It seems easy to forget and he was pretty matter-of-fact about it, but it was a slap to his entire family. His daughter also told him that she had saw it before and wouldn’t say anything making her his “accomplice” in the deceit. Awesome article btw.

    • He didn’t cheat on his wife, it’s his wife in the car with him (she is shown earlier in the same red dress doing laundry in the yard). His daughter says she will not tell anyone about his fail (they talk in the car how it is hard for him to “get it up” and that she should buy him some herbal tonic for that). It also brings father’s (and viewer’s) attention to the fact that the girl knows more about sex than she is supposed to for her age. Later un the film there are also implications that the Stranger did something with her sexually

  18. Chris,

    This is an incredible explanation of the movie. I appreciate the thoroughness of your work on this article. It breaks down all themes in the movie and really helped me appreciate the movie even more after reading!

    Thank you,

  19. What I believe personally when it comes to the woman in white and the evil spirit, is that they’re fighting for the villagers souls first and foremost.

    As said by others the evil spirit does not want to simply kill those people, he wants to claim their souls, which is pictured in the movie by him or the shaman taking their pictures.

    What the Bible is all about is the immortal soul too. God, Jesus, the priests, they are trying to save it from hell with their teachings, the last rites, etc…

    It makes me think about the song lake of fire, asking where the bad folks go when they die. It has the lyrics “try to find some place to rest their bones while the angels and the devils try to make them their own”.

    To me it fits with the main theme of the movie. The director is looking for answers about his dear friends deaths, and when he turns to religion he only finds answers about hell and heaven, but while angels and devils are fighting for their souls human are left alone on earth, without answers and reasons.

    I think the family was dead. But the protecting spirit sealed the house so that the stranger could not take their souls away. By going inside, the main character breaks the seal.

    But much as the director, for him who stands between hell and heaven, with his human heart, the only think he can actually perceive is their deaths. They are gone and he does not know why. He doesn’t get any answer. Religions do not give a lot of answers to us mortals about the whens and whys.

  20. So I’m coming a little late to the conversation, but I just saw the movie, had the same questions as everyone else, and found this page.
    I think that there are two things that need to be addressed by someone who knows more than I do.
    The first is “fate.” Although the Christian tradition generally portrays a bad fate as something that can be avoided by believing in Jesus, many cultures throughout the world believe that fate is unavoidable. At least by anything that human beings can do. Certainly the struggle you describe of the director would play into this indecision. Could it just be fate that led to the death of his friends? This would also explain the ending. Jong Goo’s family’s death was fated to happen, as was his decision to not trust the woman in white.
    The second point is the question of karma in the Buddhist tradition. When someone is born they carry the results of their soul’s behavior from their past life. Given the syncretic culture that the director comes from, and his own comment as you mention that he’s looking to multiple spiritual practices, karma must be relevant.
    Although I can’t answer these questions, I’m certain they play a role in the movie.
    My take on the movie, in spite of the strong and compelling case you make that the shaman and the Japanese man are in evil cahoots, is that -although I’m going to badly paraphrase it: we can’t know the ways of the lord. All three of the “powers” in the movie are acting in ways that human beings just can’t understand.

    • Movies can pose questions just as often as they answer them. I think, with The Wailing, there’s probably something to the idea of wanting the viewer to be in a position of considering exactly what you asked: did Jong Goo really have a choice? Was his fate already sealed? If he had been kinder to the Japanese man, would his karma have saved him? Because he attacked the Japanese man, was everything that followed karmic blowback? I’m not sure the movie wants to present solutions to these questions so much as get us thinking about it. I tend to refer to this as “Philosophical endings” rather than, say, a “Thematic ending” like Fight Club, or just a basic “Narrative ending” like The Godfather. I think your take is very valid! The Wailing does present three powers beyond human understanding and people are completely at their mercy.

  21. Noticed how shaman was in cahoot with devil because he had the opportunity of making tonnes of money per exorcism session. but at certain point he got scared for his life and asked for protection from Buddha. lol

    the cliff fall scene, its the Woman doing obviously causing Stranger to slip down while chasing her. she may have plan for the villagers to take the body of Stranger back to town for them to witness the resurrection of Stranger back to life infront of their very own eyes that he is indeed the evil entity all along.
    However the plan didnt go as what she intended as villagers instead just shoved the dead Stranger body further down the cliff. my take on the scene.

    • Could you imagine how she must have been feeling. “Here, see, check out the true nature of the Stranger.” And then they throw The Stranger off the cliff haha.

  22. that was a great movie with numerous questions left me at the end wondreing what have i seen, i went directly to google so i can understand more, I’ve seen a lot of videos articles and i can say this one i s beyond and perfect explanation for the movie and symbolic stuff, thank you

  23. Thanks for the article – very thorough and thoughtful 🙂

    After watching twice and reading this article ad the comments, I wanted to throw out two ideas about how Hyo-jin’s hair clip on the ground, during the final confrontation with the woman in white, could be interpretations. These 2 interpretations can also map, respectively, to the two interpretations of this scene above.

    Interpretation 1) the hair clip is on the ground because she knows that she has already lost Hyo-jin’s soul, and can no longer protect it, but is trying to still trap the stranger and so trying to instill false hope.

    Interpretation 2) the hair clip is on the ground because she has to remove her protection on the girl in order for the sinner the father, Jong-goo, to make the choice that really determines his daughter’s, Hyo-jin’s, (and his) fate.

    With the hair clip on the ground it is truly undecided weather or not the daughter will be saved – the choice is now up to where Jong-goo decides to put his trust – the woman in white, the stranger, or himself.

    • Pls excuse my typos hah – I had to stop editing this and just post it so I could get to bed 💤

    • Hey Stevie! I like Interpretation 2 a lot.

  24. Thank you for the great analysis.

    • Appreciate it!

  25. I think this is a wonderful analysis overall but the ending bit you’ve got about the director just using the “Was the family dead before the father got home” is easily understood by the wording The Woman in White uses (I noticed it immediately as a very specific statement).

    She says, “If you go home now, your entire family will die,” something to that effect at least, qualifying the statement when she reiterates it as “your whole family”. I think it’s safe to say, timing wise, it’s too late for the protagonist’s wife and mother in law. The Woman in White is saying if he returns home before the Demon is caught in the trap then he and his daughter will die as well, but if he listens, they two (or maybe even just him) can at least be saved. Still awful, but not TOTALLY bad, and a real lesson learned that if he’d only had patience, he could’ve saved at least his daughter (and if he had patience to begin with, everyone).

    Excellent analysis
    I read it in a burst of joy after seeing this movie for the first time
    I think you’re spot on about everything except that ending bit and that’s specifically because of the wording I noticed having literally finished the movie minutes ago.


  26. In the cave scene, The Stranger held out his hand for the Deacon to touch, and he had a hole in the middle of his palm. Another Jesus reference?

    • 10000%

  27. Holy shit, thank you so much for this incredible piece of work. It’s so well put together and lived up to its title. It’s all right there in the film, too, none of this seems like a reach.

    One note: Na is Na Hong-jin’s surname, not his first name, so if you mean to refer to him by his last name throughout (as you’d be referring to Steven Spielberg as Spielberg and not Steven), it should be Na, not Hong-jin.

    • Hey Sunil! Thank you for the kind words. Ah, thank you. I think another article I looked at had it written that way so I went with that. I’ll make some updates. Appreciate the heads up!

  28. Fantastic! Thanks so much for the very thoughtful and well written analysis. It gives me a new appreciation for this movie, which though I enjoyed, I found somewhat frustrating and occasionally contradictory. But I like your interpretation and realize now many aspect were more intentional that I had given credit for. It also makes for a rather powerful allegory, especially knowing the context of the director’s experience.

    • Mike! Thank you, happy to hear the article is doing its job! What was your favorite part of the movie?

  29. It’s not his wife in the car.

    • I didn’t think so the first time I watched it but it is the wife.Like 1000000% the wife. She’s not at breakfast because she’s out doing laundry. Then exchange a look then go to the car because it’s the only place they can have privacy.

  30. I’m usually not able to pick up meaning in movies that reference an allegory, or are supposed to mirror the politics of the time, etc. and I don’t know why. I have to rely on others’ analyses to understand it. It actually took me 3 tries to get through this movie! Now after seeing it and reading this article and replies, I have a thought.

    When the woman in white tells Jong-Goo that if he goes to his family before the 3rd crow, his entire family will die … what if the family had already been attacked, but were not beyond help? If Jong-Goo stays with the WIW until the end, when he finally reaches his family, they will be able to recover with medical help, and the demon will be captured, since Jong-Goo’s faith was strong enough to resist the final temptation. Perhaps the WIW couldn’t prevent the attack – she could only hold off the final fate of the family until Jong-Goo made his decision to stay or leave. That would explain the timing of that scene.

  31. What was the movie that Chris has watched three times and it’s very slow? I think it was Chris.
    I’ve gone back and listened like three times and can’t make out the movie

  32. Something not mentioned here that I noticed and made me think the Woman in White was good is the scene of her throwing stones. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, or whatever the exact quote it. I took that scene to show she was pure, and perhaps even Christ-like.

  33. I get angered sometimes listen to the podcast by some of your guy’s takes (Magic Mike XXL is a masterpiece??!?), but damn I do love your synopses!! So good, and so thorough. The Wailing has been one of my favorite horror of the past few years, and elevates the wonder genre of Korean horror even further.

    Your thorough breakdown was wonderful and answered some questions for me. It’s amazing how good of a film this is!

    • Sir, Magic Mike XXL IS a masterpiece 🙂

      And glad you enjoy our analyses! Those matter more than our weird opinions anyway.

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