In the house of Lee Gyeong-Jin, all is not well. This high-ranking family in the Joseon Kingdom harbours a dark secret, one that has killed three of its sons. But with the youngest ‘daughter-in-law’ and wife of the youngest son now pregnant with his child, she learns of the power that plagues the family and the all too complex politics of royalty.
“Life means power,” is one of the most poignant lines of the feature, spoken by the protagonist Ok-bun, which seems to encapsulate the inner workings of the film perfectly. Inside the house, everyone is trying to grapple some sort of power, though nothing is more coveted than the title of matriarch of the house. Almost all of the female characters are desperate for their chance at power, doing whatever they can in order to rule over one of the most powerful families in the kingdom.
If there is one thing to certainly praise The Wrath on is its visuals. Displaying a Korea long past, The Wrath’s visuals are intoxicating. It is easy to be lost in the beauty of its cinematography, which captures the eerie hostility of the palace, helping the audience to feel isolated and separated from the world Ok-bun has been thrust into. Pops of red are used to clear effect, from red streamers outside of Won-A’s grave, red lights to anticipate her arrival and, most obviously, blood – which the film has no shortage of.
Speaking of gore, the film doesn’t shy away from making the audience look. We open with the clang of a meat cleaver cutting its way through a plethora of different meats, quickly followed by the gruesome death of its wielder. Director Yoo Young-sun doesn’t hesitate to set up the tone of the film with this scene, as rain filters through cracks in moonlit the wood, hiding the body in under the guise of darkness. Certainly, this is no comedy.
Another highlight of the film comes from its protagonist, Ok-bun (played by Son Naeun of KPop girl group, APink). Ok-bun’s silence is calculated and filled with intelligence, with the character speaking minimally throughout the film. She knows the power she posses with her pregnancy as the only daughter in law to have achieved this feat and uses her words sparingly. Though when she does, they are impactful and makes the biggest mark on the storyline.
However, there is much to criticise with this feature. The visuals Yoo presents are confounded with beauty, yet the choice to film one of the most climatic scenes in night-vision ruins the atmosphere he has worked so hard to present, instead giving a momentary feeling of a cheap ghost-hunting production. Furthermore, many of the characters feel underexplored and two-dimensional. If these characters had been explored with more depth, The Wrath’s political power play could have been all that more thrilling, yet as an audience we are left craving more.
Overall, The Wrath feels to have fallen in the trap of style over substance. Its visuals are often truly stunning, yet it is held back by its flat characters and often confusing storyline. It has the foundations to be an incredible piece of political power play, yet The Wrath remains nothing more than a ‘could have been’ of untapped potential, and a poor remake of the 1986 film, Woman’s Wail.
Dir: Yoo Young-sun
Scr: Park Chae-Bum
Cast: Choi Hong -il, Seo Young-hee, Son Na-eun
DOP: Lowell A. Meyer
Country: South Korea
Run time: 94 mins