|The Wailing promotional poster|
The movie sets in a village in South Korea and follows the life of police officer, Jong Goo. The local villagers are plagued with some mysterious evil force around them. The first few victims show up with some uncanny skin disease with boils and rashes. Families are brutally murdered in their houses. These gory scenes become all the more familiar with Jong Goo and his colleagues as days pass by. What was initially labelled to be just some wild mushroom eating gone fatally wrong suddenly dawns on the authorities and villagers alike that they're actually dealing with something far more sinister.Sightings of a cannibalistic old man have been witnessed and widely reported in local tabloids. Around the same time, a Japanese old man who lives in hut on a mountain attracts the interest of Jong Goo who is dispatched with a fellow colleague to seek for witnesses and garner more information about the mysterious fatalities. He comes across a mysterious woman one day while on duty. She keeps throwing stones towards Jong Goo and his police mate. After a while, the woman calmly crosses the police line and enters the crime scene while beckoning for Jong Goo. She gives subtle clues as to who the perpetrator is.Jong Goo starts experiencing episodic nightmares since the first time he visited the crime scenes of the mysterious murders. Around the same time, his daughter Hyo-Jin falls sick. Her condition only worsens overtime. She starts cussing at her own father, much to the chagrin of her family members. Her grandmother realizes that it might be a symptom of an onset of a demonic possession. She then tells her son-in-law Jong Goo that she'll be calling in a well-reputed shaman to look into the matter concerning Hyo-Jin.
Jong Goo and one of his colleague goes up to the Japanese foreigner's hut to investigate the area out of suspicion. To both their horrors, they uncover an altar that resembles one dedicated to Satan. They also find photographs of various victims on the wall. The guard dog barks wildly at them and eventually breaks free and charges for them. Soon after, the Japanese old man returns and pacifies the dog. Jong Goo and is fellow police mates apologize and head back down the road. Jong Goo's police mate who had accompanied him earlier is visibly disturbed. He hands over Hyo-Jin's shoe that was found near the altar to Jong Goo. Jong Goo heads back home to find Hyo Jin's condition only worsening. She cusses at him repeatedly and retaliates violently.
Distraught about Jong-goo's daughter, his mother-in-law seeks help from a shaman, Il-gwang. As Il-gwang performs a ceremony to exorcise the demon, Jong-goo finds his daughter in pain and interrupts the ritual, taking her to a hospital instead. The following day, he assembles his friends to hunt down the stranger, believing the stranger is responsible for the sickness and murders. They chase him, and eventually end up hitting him with their vehicle. They dispose of his body as Moo-myeong watches from the hills. When Jong-goo returns home, he finds that Hyo-jin's condition has seemingly improved. Il-gwang suspects they killed the wrong person. He encounters Moo-myeong, and starts vomiting blood. He calls Jong-goo, telling him that Moo-myeong is the demon.Jong-goo finds Moo-myeong by his house. She asks him to believe her, telling him she had set a trap for the demon, but the trap won't work if Jong-goo goes back to his house. Confused, Jong-goo leaves to save his family, but Moo-myeong grabs him, her skin turning a ghostly white as he notices that she is wearing the personal effects of some of the victims. He tears himself away, and as he crosses his home's threshold, the floral trap withers. The priest encounters the still-alive old man in a cave and, after being photographed by the man, watches him turn into a demon. Jong-goo finds that Hyo-jin has murdered their family. He calls out to her, but she murders him and falls into a stupor. Il-gwang arrives at Jong-goo's house and takes photographs of the victims, returning to his car and dropping a box filled with photos of the other victims.
As Jong-goo lies dying in his home, he sees visions of happier times with his daughter and assures her he will protect her.
The story was slightly confusing to say the least. So I googled up interpretations for the story and this interpretation by Ace was the best I came across.
1) It's a battle between the girl in white (good) and the old Japanese guy (evil) for the soul of the villagers.
2) The shaman is actually working for the Japanese guy (devil) because there are four important clues (a-d):
2a) the white Japanese underwear that he wore in 1 scene, which is the same underwear the Japanese man wears.
2b) his ritual was targeting the little girl, as the girl's pain corresponds to the shaman hammering the nail. The Japanese man also was in pain during Shaman's ritual, but these two were not connected, as there was one scene showing the girl in white (source of pain for the Japanese man) near the Japanese man during the ritual. The director made the two rituals parallel to make it seem that the shaman was targeting the Japanese man.
2c) Shaman meets the girl in white and vomits blood and white pukes, a strong indication of impurity. (also, any normal person would probably faint after vomiting so much blood and body content...suggesting the shaman is not just a normal person. Also, there was another murder scene in the movie, where the yard of the residence has ritual setups, suggesting the shaman's ritual did not work
2d) Another strong clue that the shaman is working for the Japanese man is that at the end of the movie, he has a box of pictures of the victims. The Japanese man claims that he has burnt them. In reality, he has given them to the Shaman for safekeeping.
3) the girl in white is good because she can throw stones (a reference to the Bible) and she is able to physically touch humans. On the contrary, the Japanese man has never made physical contact with anyone, suggesting he has no physical form.
Overall, this movie is about the devil fishing for human's soul. The theme is shown at the start of the movie as a closeup to the Japanese man fishing by the river. It is then echoed a number of times during the movie as well.