Kim Bok-Nam lives on an island. Her life is worse than that of a slave. She’s being abused and humiliated by her husband and the rest of the island’s population. Eventually, her tragic life will leave her no other option than to revolt.
This film – of which the international title ‘Bedevilled’ is a lot easier to remember than the original South Korean one – and its director Cheol-Soo Jang seemingly appeared out of nowhere but nevertheless left quite an impression at several internationally acclaimed film festivals around the world. Perhaps this is simply because the director is an acolyte of famous filmmaker Kim Ki-Duk, or perhaps it’s because he actually delivered a unique and hard-to-categorize motion picture that spooks through your head long after you finished seeing it. Throughout approximately 75 minutes (three quarters of the full running time), ‘Bedevilled’ is a very slow and harrowing drama focusing on the life of one poor woman. Then suddenly, almost when you totally don’t expect it anymore, the film converts into a harsh and downright savage tale of revenge and oppressed anger. The sudden transition is abrupt and shocking, but also strangely justified and efficient. One moment you’re witnessing the “Via Dolorosa” of a seemingly timid and vulnerable young woman, yet the next moment this timid and vulnerable young woman is coloring the entire island blood red with a primitive sickle.
The story opens in modern day Seoul, where the egocentric and obnoxious Hae-Won is close to reaching an emotional and professional burnout. She goes on a vacation to Moodo, the island where she spent her childhood holidays with her friend Kim Bok-Nam. Kim Bok-Nam is very happy to see Hae-Won, because she thinks her friend has come to save her and her daughter, like she begged her to in all those letters. Kim Bok-Nam’s life is worse than that of a slave. She’s being abused and humiliated by her husband and the rest of the island’s population, both male and female. Another long series of events, including the disinterested reaction of her friend, slowly lead to a gigantic tragedy.
The first three quarters of ‘Bedevilled’ may come across as dull and uneventful – especially when shown at 2am on a Saturday morning in a theater full of horror junkies – but the slow pace and melodramatic atmosphere are fundamental for the film. Cheol-Soo Jang carefully takes his time to illustrate that Moodo truly is a very isolated setting, completely devoid of legislation and social evolution. The elderly intimidate the younger and the men dominate the women, probably just like the generations before them did as well. Kim Bok-Nam endured as much anger and agony as humanly possible, and this is painfully illustrated in great detail during the film’s long awakening. I’ve rarely seen a cinematic character who’s vengeance is so legitimatized and substantiated. My hat’s off to debuting director Cheol-Soo Jang, scriptwriter Kwang-Young Choi and lead actress Yeong-Hie Seo. Furthermore, ‘Bedevilled’ benefices from the truly breathtaking island filming locations and staggering photography. Don’t know if it’s true, but I read somewhere that the location was selected out of nearly 3.000 islands surrounding the South Korean shore. The selection was based on size, nature and available facilities. Great choice, I’d say. Faint- hearted viewers beware, however, as the extended finale features a large number of grim and shocking images.
Trailer on YouTube.