Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Starring Yeong-hie Seo, Seong-won Ji
Written and directed by Chul-soo Jang
In all honesty, I have no idea how to do a review of Jang Chul-soo's masterpiece, Bedevilled, as it is so unlike any movie I've come across. I think, perhaps, the best way to go about reviewing a film such as this one is to just state the facts and let the audience decide, but I'm certain that nothing that I write here will do the film justice.
Bedevilled is a Korean import about a high-strung bitchy woman named Hae-won, who, after slapping a co-worker, is ordered to take some time off and get some rest. She decides to accept a standing invitation from her childhood friend, Bok-nam, to return to the tiny island where she grew up. When she arrives, she discovers Bok-nam to be culturally stunted, emotionally repressed, and on the receiving end of abuse from her husband, his brother, and the four aunties that live on the island with them. She's beaten, humiliated, raped and tortured and is expected to endure it because that, according to the old aunties, is the woman's place. One look at the poster lets anyone know that this movie is a revenge piece so it comes as no surprise when she freaks out and starts with serious bloodletting. What is the surprise, however, is how she does it and how the movie builds to it.
Bedevilled, which won Fantastic Fest 2010's Audience Award, is not the standard hack-and-slash revenge tale. Instead of a few minutes of backstory followed by gory death, what we get is an uncomfortable, often painful, view of what Bok-nam went through that brought her to her breaking point. The audience sits through every blow as abuse is heaped upon her. It is torturous, infuriating, and serves as witness to the very worst of human nature. To say it offends is a gross understatement, as it shows without delight her continued existence of torture. Even the most jaded horror fans will feel the urge to turn the movie off, or at least take a break, during the first three quarters. But when she finally does crack, there is a definite release of pent-up energy that electrifies the audience.
Performances in this film are excellent. Seong-won Ji, who plays the beautiful Hae-won, is cold, distant, and aloof throughout the film. Her character is instantly unlikable, and she plays it to hilt. Yeong-hie Seo, as the hapless Bok-nam, delivers a performance worthy of any and every award that can be heaped upon a person. The other characters come across as appropriately despicable, to the point that the viewer feels disgust whenever they appear on screen. If asked, one would be hard pressed to find a more disgusting portrayal of characters in cinematic history.
Adding to Bedevilled's value is the care with which Jang Chul-soo shot the movie. The beautiful landscape is expertly juxtaposed to the filthy squalor in which Bok-nam lives, and he makes it a point show how one person just doesn't seem to belong in the other world, no matter how desperately she wants to.
If there is any drawback to this movie, it is the amount of abuse shown on screen. There came a point when the brutality seemed gratuitous, but it did serve a purpose. Through all the bile that swelled against the other characters, those uncomfortable scenes laid the groundwork to put the ending right where it needed to be, a cathartic rush for the audience that leaves no one disappointed.
Do not go in expecting feel-good emotions, a typical slasher, or even to not be offended. This movie will make you angry. Period. But it also pays off cinematic gold. While I can say I will probably never watch Bedevilled again, I can, in all honesty, admit that I was glad to have seen it once and that I will never forget it.
4 1/2 out of 5
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