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October 04, 2012

Bedevilled

bedevilled poster.jpg

Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal
Jang Chul-soo - 2010
Well Go USA Entertainment Region A BD

What is interesting to me about Bedevilled is how the film works as a social critique on the victimization of women, mostly by men. But also that victimization is at the hands of other women, both actively and passively, usually on behalf of men. Several examples are presented within the first few minutes as we see a young woman being beat up by a couple of thugs on the streets of Seoul. It turns out that a woman, Hae-won, is the only witness. Hae-won feels intimidated by the two men in the line-up, and again outside the police station, feeling it best not to speak up. In her position as a loan officer, she denies a loan to an older woman, living on her own, due to bank rules. When another banker is able to resolve things in Hae-won's absence, a series of misunderstandings causes Hae-won to be told to take a vacation after striking her coworker.

Hae-won goes to a remote island where her grandparents use to live, her first time in fifteen years. During that time away, she received letters from a childhood friend, Bok-nam. The notion that this island would provide an idyllic retreat is quickly dissolved. Hae-won observes Bok-nam abused by her husband, brother-in-law, and the quartet of older women, the handful of people who still live on the island. Bok-nam hopes that somehow Hae-won can rescue her, or at least her young daughter, from life on the island. By the end of the week of Hae-won's visit, several events push Bok-nam to take matters in her own hands.

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The relationship between Bok-nam and Hae-won is played against some flashbacks of when they were younger. The scenes give indication of the lives the two women would have as adults, with Bok-nam a victim of abuse, and Hae-won, the silent witness.

Bedevilled is the directorial debut of Jang Chul-soo. While chiefly known for his association with Kim Ki-duk, what Jang shares, if this film can be considered indication, is an interest in the most marginalized people in Korean society. The people of the island, Moo-do, live in an enclosed society with their own rules. What also makes this particular group unusual is that it is dominated by a matriarch, the mother of Bok-nam's husband and brother-in-law. The two men are prized as they are the only two men capable of work, the third man on the island being a drug addled elder. In its very basic outline, Bedevilled shares some of the same framework as Straw Dogs, about a big city outsider coming to a small, entrenched community in a supposedly bucolic setting, setting off a chain of events that culminate in violence.

While Jang does not have the same overriding formal concerns as Kim Ki-duk, there are some visual moments to savor. There is an eerie beauty to a shot of the matriarch hiding at night in a bamboo forest, evading Bok-nam who has gained the upper hand on her tormentors. There is also a nice dissolve between a shot of Hae-won, lying on the floor of her apartment, with a long shot of the island.

The title translates as the clinical "The Whole Story of the Kim Bok-nam Murder Case". Maybe not the most enticing title, but the English language title sets up expectations for a horror film. And while Bedevilled does get bloody and violent, there is also serious intent as indicated by the methodical buildup during the first hour and a half. Seo Yeong-hee has rightly won several awards for her performance as Bok-nam. Seo was previously in another controversial Korean film, The Chaser. For some, Bedevilled may not be an easy film to watch, but it is a film worth the challenge presented to the viewer.

Posted by peter at October 4, 2012 08:47 AM