The kingdom of Joseon is in a state of great turmoil as the absolute monarchy is being influentially divided. The King has treacherous whispers being fed to him by head of the nobles, Minister Kim, and the eldest royal son, the Crown Prince, witnesses his father’s dominion being redirected against the common people despite his best efforts to persuade his father. When the Crown Prince’s insurrection plan for kingdom stabilizing is foiled, the Crown Prince commits public suicide as act of sacrifice to spare his cohorts and their family from capital punishment, but before his death, the Crown Prince sends word to his younger brother, Lee Chung, to return home from the Qing Dynasty and escort his sister and unborn child out of a country soon to be in the throes of chaos. In the midst of the struggle, a foreign ship cargoes new age weapons and the Captain has secret dealings with Minister Kim, but is raided by the Crown Prince’s rebellion The ship also holds another human eradicating payload, a plagued foreigner in the brig is transforming into a blood hungry monster with grayed out eyes and razor sharp teeth With one of the raiding members being bitten, the carnivorous outbreak spreads throughout the kingdom days before the pleasure seeking and arrogant Lee Chung returns home. Chung not only finds his people suffering from bloodthirsty monsters, but also from a turbulent hierarchy sought for destruction by a devilish and traitorous orchestrator who will do anything, like leave a plague go unchecked, to see the lineage die out.
From the same studio that delivered the critically successful, zombie apocalyptic nail biter, “Train to Buscan” comes Kim Sung-hoon’s martial arts horror-fantasy, “Rampant,” that’s a perfect accompaniment double feature film involving a familiar fast-spreading zombie-like outbreak with gripping, non-stop action based on the webcomic Kingdom of the Gods. “Rampant” is the filmmaker’s junior film from 2018, a film blended with truly epic magnitude and an ancient Korean civilization that’s penned by “Scary Hair” writer-director Shin-yeon Won and Hwang Jo Yoon to weave battling aortic stories that inherently funnel toward the dismantling of an established empire. While not serving as a straight genre film with savage moments of on the edge of your seat horror, the theme hones in on the separation of classes, peasants and blue-blooded or high ranking officials, and the reuniting them by compassion and strength. Inklings of fear, greed, and ignorance are stitched in the very hanbok and gat-laden fabrics of the story and serving as a precursor to the Netflix produced television series, Kingdom, scripted by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Seong-hun Kim, involving virtually an identical premise of a troubled monarchy being plagued by a horde of diabolical creatures.
Prince Lee Chung is a stimulating character to say the least; the prince’s introduction isn’t favorable to royal morals as a pleasure seeking, womanizer who gets his kicks by doing what he wants, when he wants. Yet, Chung arches so prominently that the transformation goes seamless, and covertly, to persuades audiences to rally behind Chung in the least-to-most extreme circumstances. Hyun Bin’s confidence in the prince ceases to amaze. From his impeccable arrogance to selfless protection, Bin sustains high level performance no matter the situation while bearing a giant blade, holstered on his lower back. Chung has the skill of a warrior, but the tact of a barfly at first and comes to be a complete better version of himself at the dire end that also completes Bin’s full range of the role. Chung is pitted against Minister Kim, the head of all the court’s ministers, and Kim plots to dethrone the Joseon kingdom in chaos by any means. Jang Dong-Gun is Korean’s version of Mads Mikkelsen. Jang envelops a deepening mystery that’s hard to deescalate and emits a presence on screen just by the way he positions himself in an ominous, if not anime swordsman, manner. Minister Kim is a staggering and formidable nemesis, more overall suited to be the main villain amongst an ever-growing sea of plague-spewing creatures. The remaining lot of characters feel auxiliary around the protagonist Chung and antagonist Kim and these roles are supported by Kim Eui-sung (“Train to Buscan”), Jo Woo-jin, Jo Dal-hwan, Jung Yoo-An, Lee Sun-Bin, and Seo Ji-hye.
You might have noticed that the term creatures were used to describe the menace that plagues Joseon. Characters often reference the plague transformed attackers as demons and, to be honest, these grayed eyed, pointy teeth demons could pass as extras in Lamberto Bava’s “Demons” or Kevin Tenney’s “Night of the Demons,” but the U.S. marketing of the Well Go USA Entertainment release promises zombies and zombie action, even going as far as splaying on the front and back cover that the same studio produced “Train to Buscan.” To be fair, a plague did start the mayhem, transmission of the disease was by bite, and the course ran the kingdom very, well, rampant like a traditional, George A. Romero style, outbreak. Either way, to kill a demon and/or zombie, an assortment of kill method was acceptable such as: beheadings, severing the heart, and, to thoroughly ensure death, kill with fire. Demons. Zombies. Audiences won’t be too hard up on how to label the hungry hordes as “Rampant” slices, dices, and crucifies the the living hell out of the living dead.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents the VAST Entertainment and Leeyang Film, “Rampant,” onto a dual format, DVD and Blu-ray combo, release. The 129 minute runtime Blu-ray is exhibited in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s money behind this release as visual effects are one of the superior cases over the lot of 2018 releases with pinpoint detail from the mass of infected, the textures and coloring of fire, and the Joseon Kingdom structures and detail attire. The attention is really in the details with not only historical authenticity, but also realism. Human coloring looks rather natural and the no issues with compression either. The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio track suits the action heavy film with LFE combustions and explosions, unlimited range and depth amongst a vast Kingdom battleground, and dialogue that right up front. The DVD has a Dolby Digital audio track. Well constructed and syned English subtitles are available on both formats. Inyoung Park’s ho-hum score is the Achilles’ heal of brittleness that downplays the feverish action and reducing the entire sequence as mediocre that doesn’t aspire greatness to come or to be beheld. The same can be said about the bonus material too with a making of featurette that’s more of “Rampant’s” Stateside promo reel, Behind the Scenes featurette that also feels like a marketing campaign ad focusing on character introductions, and Well GO USA Entertainment trailers. In short, no substance in the bonus features. With sound swordplay choreography, a swarm of multiplying reanimated corpses, and an engrossing narrative with a lore foundation, “Rampant” is the next Korean mega hit in the fantasy-horror catalogue.
In a small South Korean village, tight-knit families practically know one another in the quaint middle-class community. When mysteriously deadly destructions from inside local families and strange stories of animal carcass devouring creatures in the woods surface, local police sergeant Jong-Goo begins an investigation to connect a pattern of violence and superstition and at the center of it all is a suspicious and reclusive Japanese traveller. Bound by the law and an overall lack of courage, Jong-Goo proceeds to investigate with extreme caution, but when his young daughter, Hyo-jin, becomes subjected to the same symptoms that overtook destroyed families from within, the desperate father sets aside rules and regulations and uses threats and force when visiting the Japanese Stranger, whose rumored to be an evil spirit that’s plaguing the small village with terror and death.
By far, “The Wailing” sets the precedent on folklore horror. Acclaimed writer-director Hong-jin Na lands a harrowingly ambitious, well-constructed film right into the lap of horror fans with “The Wailing,” known also as “Goksung” in the film’s country of South Korea. South Korean filmmakers have once reestablished proof that foreign films can be as masterful, as bold, and as elegant when compared to any other film from major studio productions. Hollywood has started to come around by remaking one of South Korea’s most notorious films, the vengeful thriller “Oldboy,” and seeks to remake recent international hits in “Train to Buscan” and “I Saw the Devil.” Lets also touch upon that top Hollywood actors are beginning to branch out to South Korean films. “Captain America” star Chris Evans had obtained a starring role in Joon-ho Bong’s “Snowpiercer” alongside co-stars Ed Harris and the late British actor Sir John Hurt. “The Wailing” will reach similar popularity being one of 2016’s most original horror movies and one of the more unique visions of terror to clutch the heart of my all time favorite’s list.
Do-won Kwak stars as Sergeant Jong-Goo, a officer who avoids trouble at all costs and has no motivation to be on time for anything. Kwak, basically, plays the fool character, comically going through the routine of investigating brutal murders complete with stabbings, burnings, and hangings despite his Captain’s constant chastising and seizes every opportunity to act dumb and look stupid, but once the story starts to focus “The Wailing” as nothing more than an offbeat black-comedy, Hong-ja Na devilishly about-faces with a severe turn of events that’s a mixed bag of genres. Kwak no longer plays the lead role of comic relief; instead, a more self-confident Sergeant Jong-Goo takes control of the investigation as the deeper he finds himself involved in the dark plague that’s ravaging his village. He hunts down the Japanese Stranger, the debut South Korean film for long time Japanese actor Jun Kunimura (“Kill Bill,” Takashi Miike’s “Audition”) with a zen like aurora that’s enormously haunting to behold and captivating when his presence is lurking amongst the scene. Though Kunimura’s demeanor contrasts with other actors, he’s very much in tune with the dynamic, but it’s the maniacally, foul-mouth ravings of Hyo-jin, played by Hwan-hee Kim, that stand out and are the most distraught during her possession state that could give “The Exorcist” a run for it’s money and is a visceral vice grip to the soul that has to be experienced. Woo-hee Chun and Jung-min Hwang round out the cast in their respective and memorable co-starring roles as a peculiar no named woman and a flashy shaman.
“The Wailing” incorporates various folklore stemming from cultures all over the world including the Koreas, China, Japan, and even from China’s bordering neighbor Nepal and meshes them with religious practices of Buddhism to even the far corners that the Catholic faith possesses. The luxuriant green South Korean mountain backdrop sets an isolated, ominous cloud over a beautiful and serene archaic village, an awe-inspiring juxtaposition created by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong that coincides with the complete dread piercing through the heart of the story; a perspective vastly opposite to Hong’s works in the previously mentioned “Snowpiercer” that’s set in the tight confines of a class dividing bullet train. “The Wailing” bundles together mythos with visionary concepts and landscapes in an epic mystery-thriller that’s unforgettable; it will cling to you, like a evil-dwelling spirit, well after the film is over.
20th Century Fox, in association with Ivanhoe Pictures and Side Mirror, produce Hong-jin Na’s top horror contender “The Wailing” with Well Go USA and Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment distributing on DVD and Blu-ray. Unfortunately, I was provided with a DVD-R screener and can’t specifically comment on specifications and image or audio quality. Accompanying the screener were two bonus features: a behind-the-scenes featurette and the beginning tale of “The Wailing” featurette. Both were fairly informative that gives insight on Hong-jin Na’s mindset and how the director’s ambitious story in a malignant tale of comedy, horror, and mysterious involving demons, shamans, and, quite possibly, the devil himself. “The Wailing” significantly captivates, sucking you into the darkness with an uncanny amount of pull with a story too terrifyingly original to avert and too thick with vigorous characters in a plot twist too harrowing to forget.