'The Medium' has its predecessor to thank for growing anticipation
The anticipation surrounding “The Medium,” which already had its world premiere at the 25th Bucheon Fantastic International Film Festival and was released in local theaters Wednesday, continues to grow with audiences positively reviewing the horror film.
Ever since production began, horror flick fans have been waiting with trepidation to find out what the film has in store for them — especially because it marks the first collaborative project between two horror maestros — director-turned-producer Na Hong-jin of “The Wailing” (2016) and director Banjong Pisanthanakun, known for Thai horror films such as “Shutter” (2004) and “Pee Mak” (2014). Na also co-wrote the original script of the film with writer Choi Cha-won.
In line with the anticipation, Lotte Cinema has made plans to cater to those that might be particularly nervous — on the release date and over the weekend, some branches will screen the film with the lights turned on and offer ear plugs for those who wish to avoid listening to the gory sounds.
During the press screening earlier this month, director Pisanthanakun revealed he “idolizes” director Na, especially his film “The Wailing.”
“Personally, after I wrapped up ‘Alone’ , I just got bored with the horror genre, because I started to feel like all the horror in the films was somewhat repetitive and similar,” Pisanthanakun said during an online interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily last week. “So I kept my distance from it for a while, but I grew interested in it again as another generation and another dimension of good films began to be released, such as films by director Ari Aster and director Na’s ‘The Wailing.’ I also found director Kim Jee-woon’s ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’  haunting.”
Pisanthanakun reminisces about the first time he met director Na, which was five years ago at an art festival in Thailand where Na’s film ‘The Chaser’ (2008) was being screened. The director identified himself as a huge fan of Na and gave the Korean director the full collection of his films on DVD. Pisanthanakun never expected that Na would eventually contact him to work together.
“And there was no reason to say no,” Pisanthanakun said. “When I received the script, it was the kind of film I had never experienced before, so of course I accepted his offer.”
“The Medium” centers around a shaman named Nim who works as a bridge of communication between the townspeople and the god they believe in. She took on the role after her elder sister Noi refused to inherit the job. But when she comes across Mink, who is her young niece, Nim realizes that she is showing signs that she will inherit the role. As they prepare for the ritual, however, Nim and the rest of the family realizes in horror that within Mink isn’t the benign god that they worship, but something else — not one, but a fusion of countless evil spirits collecting inside of her.
At the press screening, Na said that he never intended to direct the film himself, perhaps cautious about it overlapping with his iconic “The Wailing,” which also deals with shamanism in a small rural town.
“After I wrote the script for ‘The Medium,’ there were a lot of scenes involving shamanism and rituals, and I was faced with the problem of how much I could really deviate from ‘The Wailing,” Na said. “I didn’t think things would change drastically merely by switching around the locations. So I imagined it being filmed overseas, and the image that popped into my mind was a very humid, rainy region with dense forests and unpaved roads.”
Ironically, however, the two directors stand at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their personal beliefs about ghosts and the afterlife. While Na believes that ghosts exist and fears them to the point where he “scrambles from his office after dark,” Pisanthanakun doesn't, and never has, believed in ghosts.
“I still very much enjoy the fear that the presence of ghosts evokes in films, but nowadays, I don’t think they emit as much horror as they did before,” Pisanthanakun said. “I believe that what differentiates horror films today is their unique auras — being able to create that tingly sensation of goosebumps slowly creeping up on you and leaving you feeling cold and your knees shaking.”
The director spent two years scouting areas of the Isan region of Thailand and interviewing about 30 shamans before settling on a location for filming.
“I drove all around the Isan region looking for the perfect spot that would make my vision come to life,” Pisanthanakun said. “The actual city that we filmed in is called Loei, located on the far upper end of the northeastern region, and is surrounded by mountains.”
Although the director embraces the influence from Na, he implored audiences to view the film separately from the cinematic universe of “The Wailing,” despite the fact that the two films contain similar elements in their respective narratives.
Another factor separating "The Medium" from "The Waling" is that its narrative is told through the medium of a fake documentary.
“It was written that way in the original script,” the director explained. “And I fervently agreed it should be filmed that way. The way cameras shoot the scenes is different for the first half and the latter half of the film. The former focuses on the breathtaking nature and mystical atmosphere, while the latter is shot urgently, with cameramen [in the film] not knowing what will happen next, maximizing fear and creating a sense of reality in the film.”
Pisanthanakun said Na always emphasized that cameramen and the cameras were also part of the cast for “The Medium.”
“They [the staff] went into shooting with minimum guidelines,” he said. “They did not know the specific movements or choreography of the actors, which was how we were able to depict the urgency in camera movements.”
Another consensus Na and Pisanthanakun reached was that the actor who portrays Mink should be a new face. The director cast Thai rookie actor Narilya Gulmongkolpech for the role, and referred her to as “the one” out of countless auditions he went through.
The film does not hesitate to show violent, gory and explicit scenes featuring the possessed Mink, but the director explained that all of the scenes were necessary to push the narrative forward.
“As I grew older, I became more doubtful of [people’s] beliefs and religions,” he said. “Meanwhile, the horror and infamy of humans' actions is becoming more evident. I discussed the [explicit] scenes a lot with Na, but I believed they were necessary to transcend the message of the wicked acts that humans commit.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]