Another grim little tale from Asia, this time we are looking at an interesting film form Korea.
“Bedevilled” starts with us spending some time with Hye-won (Ji Seong-Won), an attractive young woman who works approving loans. It is quite clear very quickly that she is a cold fish, utterly disconnected from people, lacking basic empathy. She has witnessed a rape, but her willingness not to be involved stops her identifying the perpetrators. She fights with a fellow worker over work, and when sent home on “gardening leave” she just sits in her apartment drinking Guinness. Eventually she decides to visit a childhood haunt, an Island where she spent her holidays. She reconnects with Bok-nam (Seo Young-Hee), the young playmate she had. Bok-nam has lived on the island all her life, and has been trying to contact Hye-won for years, and is delighted to see her old friend. However, it transpires that Bok-nam is having a hard life – abused physically and emotionally by the small community there. Her husband (Park Jung-Hak) is the worst but not the only culprit. The abuses continue, eventually ending in tragedy, and then into a revenge-driven bloodbath.
Director Jang Cheol-Su has previously done some Assistant Director work for Kim Ki-duk, and you can certainly see a common eye at play here. The film is beautiful, even when it is depicting some quite hideous things. Even down to the film poster, which I think is my favourite for many a year.
The thing I most enjoyed however, is given away when you know the films original Korean title – “The Whole Story of Kim Bok-nam’s Murder Case”. You see, just like Janet Leigh in Psycho, the film starts with a character that isn’t really the main focus of the film. After 30 minutes Hye-won becomes a supporting character, and the show is turned over to Bok-nam.
Hye-won is however an utterly fascinating character. She may be undeniably beautiful but she has no empathy, she is always an observer, and never acts to help others, no matter how little effort it might take her. We do see the occasional crack (like when she is apologising by txt to her colleague, only for events to drive her back into her shell again). We never really understand why she is like that (one flashback may provide a hint). She is like the audience – voyeurs, unable to directly interact with events unfolding.
The two girls are just so different. Hye-won is detached and pale – Bok-nam is dark, earthy and a creature of emotion. She is capable of great love, and desires to be loved by others. Even when she finally cracks under the strain, she is more human than Hye-won is ever capable of being.
It is hard to categorise. It is definitely not a Slasher, or even a revenge horror – it is much more of a drama – with a bloody climax. The gore is not as much as some reviewers make out (one beheading and a rather long finger gnawing not-withstanding). In fact it is not the rampaging acts of violence that are really the horror here, it is the physical and emotional torture Bok-nam goes through that truly shocks you.
However, despite all this, the film lacks something. There are no characters that you can fully connect with, Everyone has faults, and so I found it hard to get invested in the unfolding events. It lacks charm and wit, basically giving us a never ending stream of unpleasant people being horrifically unpleasant with each other. There are no moments of tension relieving humour, something I think is necessary in such a film. Only at the very end does any kind of alternative emotion get the chance to be played out – the heart-breaking ending when Hye-won finally opens Bok-nam’s letter.
And for that reason, it doesn’t quite make the list. It is totally worth seeing, but I think it would be hard for someone to ever want to re-watch the film. So Recommended certainly, but with that common desire that something really special could have happened here, and it just fell short.