Bedevilled (2010)
By: Stuart Giesel on June 22, 2012  | 
Eastern Eye | Region 4, PAL | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Korean DD 5.1 | 111 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Chul-soo Jang
Starring: Yeong-hie Seo, Seong-won Ji, Min-ho Hwang, Ji-Eun Lee
Screenplay: Kwang-young Choi
Country: South Korea
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These days no one makes thrillers quite like South Korea. And whilst Bedevilled isn't quite in the same league as Park Chan-Wook's sublime Vengeance trilogy, or I Saw the Devil, it's another tense and occasionally sickening glimpse into the darkest side of human nature.

Bedevilled stars Seong-won Ji as Hae-won, the world's rudest bank teller. We first see her yelling at an elderly woman that the bank can't loan her money, takes a phone call in front of her and then slaps down a "teller closed" sign and tells her to bugger off. Wow, some way to introduce what I assume is meant to be a somewhat sympathetic character. Anyway, the stuck-up cow is told to take a vacation. She travels to Moo-do island, where she had spent time as a child. She meets her old friend Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo, superb) and the rest of the locals who seem less than pleased with her presence. The men, in particular, seem especially creepy, not just Bok-nam's husband Man-Jong (Jeong-hak Park, eerily reminiscent of David Hess' Krug from Last House on the Left) but his brother as well. Think one part Last House, one part I Spit on your Grave, and mix in some Ms 45 scumminess for good measure. We soon discover that Bok-nam is routinely abused by her husband and his extended family (including the loathsome Auntie who just wants to maintain the status quo of their community, regardless of what despicable things happen). All Bok-nam wants is a good life for her daughter, and longs to go to Seoul with Hae-won. As it turns out, the island is a lot more isolated (not to mention violent and rapey) than Hae-won remembers it. And when Bok-nam learns a horrifying secret, all hell breaks loose. She plans to escape the island, with or without Hae-won's help.

It's pretty clear that Hae-Won is damaged goods, though we don't learn why. She's cold, insular, rude to most people and drinks copiously (seems her drink of choice is Guinness, yeah!). We do see some of her humanity return when she meets up with Bok-nam and interacts with her daughter. Bok-nam - who really should be as withdrawn as Hae-won is - is more spirited, despite living in a kind of isolated cult where all references to Seoul are forbidden and where she works like a slave. Virtually everyone on the island save Bok-nam, her daughter and a perpetually stoned old man are absolutely vile people, and as events escalate you keep hoping that either Hae-won or Bok-nam are going to set things right, Death Wish-style. In a more exploitative piece, you'd expect our heroines to take them out one by one in increasingly inventive and gruesome ways, but that's not Bedevilled's style. Indeed, much of the film is a slow burn, the tension gradually increasing to boiling point. Take the scene where the women are singing a song whilst Bok-nam is still out in the field harvesting potatoes with a sort of feverish zeal. The tone, the acting, the cinematography and the ominous score all work perfectly to create a perfect scene of looming, imminent horror. And let's just say that things don't really follow the Death Wish template at all. It's just unfortunate that the film bogs down towards the end with a more generic Hollywood-ised finale than you would expect, but I'd place the blame more on the screenplay than on director Cheol-Soo Jang.

Acting-wise, though the beautiful Seong-won Ji is billed as the 'star', she ends up being frustratingly passive in her actions, though I guess that's part of her character arc. She's hugely overshadowed by Yeong-hie Seo who's the real star of the film. As the abused Bok-nam, Yeong-hie Seo plays her with a precise mixture of naivety and passion which soon changes to desperation and - ultimately, when things go pear-shaped - retaliation. Her character is genuinely heartbreaking, and Yeong-hie Seo perfectly delivers in what must have been a challenging role. The villains are all horrible, bile-inducing scum, not just Jeong-hak Park as the husband, but the rest of the island's residents, even the old women who condone the awful behaviour of their youngsters.

My biggest issue with Bedevilled isn't technical - the film is shot extremely well, acted beautifully and directed with style but never over-directed. It's the main character of Hae-won herself. She's not an easy character to warm to, and in fact I felt less sympathy for her at the end than I did some of the terrible old women on the island. It's not made clear why she has such a massive stick wedged up her arse, though there are hints that her childhood wasn't all sunshine and roses. However, given the horrors that her childhood friend Bok-nam went through back in her childhood, and still endures to this day, as well as what Hae-won actually sees Bok-nam endure (and not to mention the multiple times that Bok-nam protects her), you would think that Hae-won would display more compassion towards her. But no, she treats her friend about as well as one of her bank customers, and even an attempt at redeeming the character late in the film doesn't really work. No, she's pretty much an ice-cold bitch throughout, and about as sympathetic as a bowl of rice. The climax, too, is a little over the top and too stalk n' slash compared with the tense first three-quarters, but it does lead to a quieter scene that brings the plot full-circle and generates even more sympathy for poor Bok-nam.

Bedevilled works for the most part, however, keeping the violence to a minimum. The threat of violence perpetuates the film - however, the director isn't afraid of spilling some claret when the script calls for it. The most disturbing aspect of the film isn't the gore, but the degradation suffered by Bok-nam, both physically and mentally, which makes Hae-won's coldness towards her friend even more painful to witness.

As a revenge film, it's far less straightforward than anything in, say, the Charles Bronson canon. Look at Bedevilled as more of a disturbing character study and you'll probably walk away more satisfied than if you were expecting I Spit on your Grave-style retribution. It's well shot, tightly directed and the acting is extremely good. It's also deeply harrowing and upsetting, far more so than any standard rape and revenge film, so be warned. We have, in Bedevilled, as unlikeable a collection of miscreants, abusers and scum as you would ever see in a Michael Winner film, and that includes the lead character who is supposed to have come from a more cultured climate. Perhaps that's the film's point.
Beautifully shot in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the colours really shine through in this anamorphic transfer, but the colours always feel natural and not as oversaturated as they could have been. One can only imagine the picture quality on the Bedevilled Blu-Ray, but as far as the DVD goes this is a nice, clean picture, with the greenery of the island really shining through, making the blood (when it comes) truly stand out.
The 5.1 audio in South Korean language is a great mood-setter, but there's not much of a score, or at least I don't recall much music throughout. Bedevilled is more about using the sounds of the island to set the mood - the wind hissing through the grass, the clatter of crickets, the sound of waves slapping rocks. These sounds, and the dialogue, come through loud and clear. The English subtitles are easy to read and, as far as I can tell, very well done.
Extra Features
The Bedevilled DVD has a twelve-minute behind the scenes feature which is just a collection of scenes being filmed without commentary or interviews, and it's not especially interesting. There's a spoilerific trailer for Bedevilled and trailers for other Eastern Eye releases - Bangkok Knockout in particular looks stupid but amazing.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Notch this up as another superior South Korean thriller. It's a disturbing, though sometimes frustrating, blend of I Spit on your Grave and The Wicker Man, an excellent production in a technical sense that's bolstered with a fantastic performance by Yeong-hie Seo. Though it loses steam towards the end with an unconvincing switch in tone, it still remains a superior watch and further proof of the awesomeness that's coming out of South Korea.

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