Bedevilled

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.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Nekoneko says:

    My copy of this one has yet to make it to me from Korea, but I'm happy to see that your review gives me hope it will be worth the wait.

    I'm not much of a fan of “splatter porn” films, but this one sounds like it has a reasonable message to say and that's usually enough to make them worth seeing…. (even if they do usually end up giving me nightmares…)

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  2. ElPeevio says:

    Heya Nekoneko-chan.

    As I hope I made clear in my review, it is not a bad film per-se, with plenty in it to make it stand out from the crowd. And don't worry about it being “splatter-porn” – it certainly isn't that. It is actually devoid of a lot of shocks and tension in the classic horror movie sense – it certainly won't make you jump out of your seat. There is only one scene that you might want to look away from, and even then it is more due the drawn out tension. I suspect you will be nightmare free to be honest!

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  3. Nekoneko says:

    It finally came today!!

    I'll watch it tonight and let you know my thoughts on it tomorrow. Hopefully, it'll enjoy it as well as I hoped I would.

    Crossin' my fingers!

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  4. Nekoneko says:

    Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I had to put off watching this one till I could give it the proper viewing it deserved.

    I agree with you that this one is a hard film to categorize…. and ultimately I think your choice of drama does indeed fit best. It's been marketed as a slasher film from most things I originally saw on it, but that's not really accurate at all. If anything it's a modern look at the “disconnection” that modern life seems to have imposed upon most people these days for good or ill.

    I'm thinking that the characters all being somewhat unpleasant was actually purposeful on the part of the filmmakers. To me, it brought that feeling of isolation from other people into a sharper focus. If we could completely empathize with any of them it would give us a hook to make a human connection and break that illusion of hopelessness such lonely people must ultimately feel. This one is more about how people can be utterly alone even when surrounded by others if they are unwilling to make even the simplest effort to feel something from the viewpoint of another and want to reach out to another person.

    Ultimately, I liked it…. and I'm not ordinarily a fan of such heavy stories. It could have been better… as I'm thinking they spent far too much time heaping abuse upon Bok-nam than was necessary to make the story work but that's a minor quibble.

    Definitely a film I'll recommend to people if they want a nice drama with a bit of an edge. I'm glad i took a chance on it.

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