Jang Cheol-soo’s directorial film debut is the latest in a long line of movies from South Korea that attempt to transcend their audience limitations by cross-hopping genres. BEDEVILLED initially appears to play as an urban revenge thriller but crosses over into slasher territory with an ambitious script that continually subverts audience expectations.
Bored with her mundane life in Seoul, bank teller Hae-won (Ji Seong-won) takes out her frustrations by callously treating all those she comes into contact with and displaying narcissistic behaviour: When she witnesses a violent assault on a woman by a gang of thugs Hae-won fails to cooperate fully with the police investigations as it would involve some degree of self-sacrifice, an act that allows the criminals to walk free. Later, when forced to take a period of extended leave by her boss due to a sociopathic display of anger on a work colleague, Hae-won decides to revisit Moodo, a small island she frequented as a child during visits to her grandparents.
Arriving on Moodo for the first time in fifteen years, Hae-won soon realizes that her idyllic retreat is home to a deviant, cruel and sexist society. Her childhood friend, Bok-nam (Yeong-Hie So), endures an arduous existence in which she is abused by her husband, Man-jong (Jeong-hak Park) and forced to work like a slave by the elderly women of the island. The island has seen little in the way of progress: laundry is still washed in streams; there appears to be no transport links, little in the way of commerce, and no governing body to enforce law and order. Underneath the bright orange sun that nurtures an island of luscious leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit, Moodo hides an underbelly of dark secrets that include rape, child-abuse, and violence perpetrated by its menfolk and apparently condoned by the island’s women.
Bok-nam begs Hae-won to help her and her young daughter escape the island but is left to suffer the consequences of her angry husband and the derision of the local populace when Hae-won reverts to type with her self-serving attitude. As punishment for daring to abandon her duties Hae-won is subjected to further physical abuse from her husband and the villagers that results in tragic circumstance. Pushed beyond the limits of mental endurance, Hae-won finally snaps and seeks retribution on all those that have made her life miserable.
Despite some erratic pacing and DELIVERENCE-styled stereotypes, BEDEVILLED is a worthwhile entry from the Korean-shock stable that impresses with its cinematography and artistic touches that utilize metaphor to convey character and mood. Parallels are drawn between the evils of the modern world of Seoul and the primitive lifestyle on Moodoo that reflect the actions and spiritual moods of its two female protagonists. Director Cheol-soo’s iconography makes full use of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water in both their light and dark aspects that bring a pagan feel to the story. Again, when the inevitable bloodbath takes place towards the end of the film the methods of extermination involve elements and tools traditionally associated with pagan ritual and sacrifice, and one could argue that the island’s broken patriarchy and strong female characters have more than a touch of the dark mother aspect about them.
BEDEVILLED utilises the story-telling techniques employed in the likes of Hitchcock’s PSYCHO to shift his narrative from one female to another. Like Hitchcock’s classic,BEDEVILLED combines drama, suspense, black-comedy, and gore to create a film that will delight audiences but offers no easy solutions to the enigma of suffering that often Is part and parcel of the human condition.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Jang Cheol-soo
Korean language with English subtitles.
111 minutes approx / Colour / Rated 18
Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
Release date: 28th February 2011
Behind the scenes / Trailer / TV Spot