"I stared at the sun for a long time, and it spoke to me. It said if I hold back, I'll get sick."
Hae-won (Ji Seong-won) is a rather cold, emotionally closed woman who works at an unnamed financial company in Seoul. Following her harsh treatment of a customer, and her subsequent hitting of a female work colleague, her boss orders her to take some time away from work and so, for some much needed rest and recuperation, she travels to the small island of Mundo, where she had lived as a child.
There she is reacquainted with her childhood friend Bok-nam, (Seo Yeong-hee), who seems even more overjoyed to see her than even old friends would be expected to be, but as they begin to spend time together in the beautiful surroundings, it becomes increasingly apparent that the island is not as idyllic as it first appeared. Bok-nam is a virtual slave to both the brutal vicious males and the controlling matriarchal older women on the island; is routinely raped and beaten; and left with nowhere to turn - and no-one other than Hae-won to turn to. However, despite Bok-nam's repeated pleas for help from her friend, Hae-won refuses to get involved, and when events transpire which threaten to put Bok-nam's daughter in a similar nightmare situation to that of her mother, Bok-nam decides that her only option is to take matters into her own hands, and save herself and her daughter by taking bloody revenge on all those involved...
Pigeon-holing Bedevilled into a single genre category (apart from using the generic 'horror' terminology) is an almost impossible task:
Though there are a great deal of graphically brutal murders, instigated, in succession, by the same hand, a 'slasher film' Bedevilled is not; though the theme of revenge pervades the film, describing it as such is a major over-simplification of proceedings, and ignores vital levels within the plot; and, though there are clearly feminist implications within the narrative, the actions of the 'murderer' are aimed at not only the men of the island (who can do anything and everything they please, to whomever they wish), but also the older women, who are equally guilty (as they allow the men their vicious freedom as a result of their heartfelt belief that things are supposed to, and should, be this way), and, as such, proceedings feel much more like an individual's attempts to put an end to a nightmare cycle of abuse - whatever the nature of that abuse is, whoever it is aimed at, and indeed caused by.
In fact, the entire structure of control and power on the island is a deeply twisted affair (with matriarchal control upholding an underlying patriarchy), as are the majority of its inhabitants - at one point, for example, the matriarchal grandmother of the community, (Baek Soo-ryeon), even explains away male sexual brutality against Bok-nam by proclaiming "A woman's only truly happy when she's got a di*k in her mouth".
Bedevilled is a slow burning film (in classic Korean style), by any definition of the phrase, with the first killing not taking place until well over halfway through the film, but though fans of faster moving fare may find the lengthy buildup somewhat frustrating, it allows viewers to witness Bok-nam's repeated (and almost constant) physical, mental and sexual abuse in what feels like close to real time. Not only that, but it also serves to rack up the tension incrementally to the point of utter discomfort, almost in tandem with Bok-nam's increasing desperation, pain and fear. As a result, when the violent retribution finally begins, it comes with a palpable sense of relief (to both Bok-nam and audience members) and ensures that viewer empathies are firmly placed where (and with whom) they should be.
Though Bok-nam's trials form the focus for the majority of the film, Hae-won's tale plays an equally important part in the plot and, in fact, as the conclusion draws near, both stories combine to show that actions (or indeed a lack of action) can have far greater consequences than could ever be imagined, for both individuals themselves and also those connected to them.
Bedevilled has, without question, the most moving (and one of the most powerful) endings to a film featuring this much graphic brutality that this reviewer has ever seen. Deeply poignant, it will stay in the mind to an equal, or even greater, degree than the violence earlier witnessed, and the combination of both ensures that Bedevilled is a film that is not easily forgotten.
Cinematically, Bedevilled is confident and accomplished. Director Jang Cheol-soo has, in the past, worked as assistant director to auteur Kim Ki-duk, and it shows: Arrestingly beautiful imagery of stunning vistas (beautifully framed throughout) are juxtaposed with intimate, claustrophic scenes of brutal, graphic violence, with each adding to the visual effectiveness of the other.
The majority of the characters in Bedevilled, apart from Hae-won and Bok-nam, are little more than caricatures, serving only to place the two main characters in the required situations. However, that isn't necessarily a criticism in this instance, as that really is all they are needed for plotwise, and their lack of depth is in no way detrimental to the main characters' tales. Each of the supporting cast provide perfectly adequate performances throughout, even within their somewhat constrained proportions.
Ji Seong-won plays the role of the cold, largely rather unlikeable, and emotionally hardened Hae-won with aplomb, especially in the final stages of the film when her character is finally allowed to open up, to a certain degree, and dwell on the consequences of what she did, and didn’t, do. Unlikeable her character may be, but thanks to her portrayal, viewers will nonetheless truly feel for her in the final stages of the film.
However, the performance in Bedevilled which leaves all others completely in the shade is that of Seo Yeong-hee, playing Bok-nam. Accomplished, impassioned and incredibly emotional, while remaining utterly believable, Seo Yeong-hee 's portrayal plays a huge part in the overall resonance of her character, her actions, and, in fact, Bedevilled as a whole.
A slow burning film which racks up the tension incrementally, Bedevilled builds to unleash violent, bloody retribution within a tale which is ultimately powerful, poignant and deeply moving.
Seo Yeong-hee… Bok-nam
Ji Seong-won… Hae-won
Baek Soo-ryeon… The grandmother
Park Jeong-hak… Man-jong (Bok-nam's husband)
Bae Seong-woo… Cheol-jong
Woo Yong… Deuk-soo
The DVD used for this review is the UK (Region 2) release from Optimum Releasing, presented as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The print used for the transfer to DVD is exceptionally clean and there are no visual issues present. Colours are full and well balanced throughout, and full justice is given to the stunning island imagery.
Sound is provided as a choice of Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound or Dolby 2.0 and each is clean and crystal clear.
Excellent (non-removeable) subtitles are also provided for both the film and all the extras.
• Director: Jang Cheol-soo
• Format: PAL, Anamorphic, Widescreen, Subtitled
• Language: Korean
• Subtitles: English
• Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
• Region: Region 2
• Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: 18
• Distribution: Optimum Releasing
• Run Time: 112 minutes (approx.)
• 'Behind The Scenes' Featurette • Trailer • TV Spot