Bedevilled aka Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal (2010)
Directed by Chul-soo Jang
[part of the NYAFF 2011]
According to the dictionary, the word bedevil means:
vb -ils, -illing, -illed US, -ils -iling, -iled (tr)
1. to harass or torment
2. to throw into confusion
3. to possess, as with a devil
If a word ever fit a movie perfectly, it'd be this one.
The masters of revenge are at it again. Korea is clearly the king of revenge cinema and after seeing Bedevilled, one can only conclude this will continue. From Chul-soo Jang, a former assistant director of Kim-Ki Duk who made his debut as director with Bedevilled, one can see his talent and style through and through.
Bedevilled is revenge cinema that will drive you nuts, pull at your emotions and above all make you think that all could have turned out differently if one only helped in a time of need. Sometimes lost in a tale of revenge is the fact that the victim hopes to solve their problems with help from the outside be it friends, family or the police. But when no help comes, they take it upon themselves to solve their problems. Bedevilled's Bok-nam our victim turned revenger illustrates this to a tee. In a world where bystanders do nothing to help her, are they worse than the man who abuses her?
It's these themes that make Bedevilled not just a good film but a great film. I haven't yelled out "Kill those motherfuckers!" at a film in a very long time. My emotions were rollercoasting all over the place and when you see it, yours will to.
Ice-cold bank clerk, Hae-Won, knows she must be pitiless to live in a pitiless world. Let the punks muggers slide, it’s not your problem; let an old woman lose her new house because of a clerical error, you’re not on overtime. She’s stunning, she’s brilliant, and she’s finally figured out how a woman can get ahead in business: by being colder than the men. Now she’s going on vacation.
A hellish “women’s picture” from the wrong side of the mirror, BEDEVILLED is a harrowing tale of women, culture, society, humanity, and what we can become. When Hae-Won ventures back to her grandfather’s home on remote Moo-do Island, she finds it much like she remembers it from her childhood: an untamed hellhole populated by a handful of ruddy-faced men and old women bleached orange by the sun. Her childhood friend, Bok-Nam (Seo Young-Hee), eagerly awaits her arrival, desperate for human contact.
All is not well on Moo-do Island, a misogynistic anti-Eden where the women work in the fields from dawn to dusk and prey on each other in competition for the savage, square-faced brutes they call their men. When her vicious husband begins eyeing their young daughter, Bok-Nam turns desperate, begging the cold-hearted Hae-Won for help escaping to civilization, but when tragedy strikes, their sick little island paradise will never be the same.
Well let's break this down by the definition shall we?
1.) to harass or torment
In any revenge story, there has to be a level of abuse. However, in Bedevilled the abuse is not just done by one, but by many. A collective of rural farmers and islanders inhabit Moo-do Island and they are pure, uncaring evil.
But as the story starts out, we follow Hae Won who gives us a taste of what living in Seoul, South Korea is like. As a woman, one must beware of the evils of men be it on the streets (where she witnesses a crime or the office). As she vacations on her grandfather's house in Moo-do Island, it suddenly becomes clear the same problems she was trying to escape from are here as well.
Her friend, Bok-Nam who has relentlessly plea-ed with Hae Won to visit is more than glad when she does. But soon we and her see the level of torment she must go through everyday. Her husband physically abuses her and sleeps with whores, the "aunties" believe men are far superior and they do all the farm work. She's raped by her husband's brother and her daughter is clearly being pedophiled as well. When she's stung by bees antagonized by her husband he retorts "put been paste on it".
It's a hellish life and we see it in all its distasteful glory. It's hard to watch and we the audience become angry. I felt intense flames from the side of my face and I wanted Bok-nam to "kill those motherfuckers". Like I said I've never felt this angry in a while. Bedevilled effectively makes you feel for Bok-nam and her plight. We also question why she just doesn't leave the island. But like an inner city youth stuck in his/her neighborhood or a person who lives in rural America, it's not that easy to leave the only life you've known.
2.) to throw into confusion
After more abuse Bok-nam and her daughter try to escape which leads to a tragedy. A conspiracy is employed by all the islanders with the husband, his brother, the boat driver and the aunties to cover up the crime. Hae Won now tries to escape as well seeing her vacation paradise become hell.
The performance of Yeong-hie Seo as Bok-Nam is utterly brilliant. She displays a level of talent going from hopeless victim to despair to psychopathic assassin. It's no wonder why she's won tons of best actress awards from various film festivals. She acts as one would act when under the thumb of an abuser, displays a few moments of levity and weeps as a mother would weep.
It's no surprise that when she snaps, we see her working in the potato fields and looking up at the sun. As she has a moment of clarity she says to her aunties: “I stared into the sun for long, and it spoke to me.”
Cue the death metal music.
3.) to possess, as with a devil
As Bok-nam goes all killer incarnate armed with a scythe, there is no way any sane person didn't want her to go all Terminator. It's pure revenge envy and probably the most enjoyable murderous spree you will see onscreen. I really can't believe I wrote that last sentence. Bok-nam is possessed to kill all who's done her wrong and as her victims beg for mercy and curse her with their last breath, we want her to taunt them right before they're executed.
Revenge cinema is the only time we side with one person throughout the entire film. We are Bok-nam's guardian angel hinting her to kill em all. That's the objective of revenge cinema, to have the audience throw out logic and order (like the law and the moral objections) and to root for the victim turned victor as she slaughters the torturers.
It's all about emotion and the one thing that Bedevilled does well is play with ours in the most rawest of ways. Bad people do bad things (MAKES US ANGRY). Good people do bad things (MAKES US HAPPY).
If your looking for Bedevilled to have a look and feel of Chan Wook Park, you're not to far off. But Korean cinema never makes a mockery or satire out of the revenge-sploitation. It treats its material with respect with and with a level of humanity. In some parts, it becomes a Lifetime Movie of the Week and the ending is a double whammy of sorts. I think I counted 3 or 4 potential scenes where I thought it would end but it kept going.
My only other gripes is figuring that the evil people who abuse Bok-nam are one dimensional characters designed to trigger Bok-nam's metamorphosis into a methodical killer.
Bedevilled is a magnificent piece of Korean revenge cinema that poses a question of whether or not doing nothing when witnessing evil is equal to or worse than the evil doer themselves. It's a question sociologists have tried to figure out for years, and one where nobody really has the answer. But you won't be shaking your head after you've seen Bedevilled. You'll be wanting bloodlust and revenge and you'll get it.
Some light nudity via a perky prostitute
Savage brutality via a scythe.
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
NYAFF 2011 film festival opens on 7/1. I've created a list of films to check out at this year's festival.
Head over to the official site for more info.
Bedevilled is no longer screening at the NYAFF. But if you have a chance to see it, it's your obligation to do so. Also, Hollywood is planning on remaking Oldboy. Fuck that.
Check out the trailer.
(shhhhh the whole movie is on YouTube. Check it out here)