Saturday, 24 March 2012


"You killed them all, bitch! Why didn't you just kill yourself?"

Bedevilled is a 2010 South Korean horror/thriller from debut director Chul-soo Jang. A young single woman from Seoul called Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) is ordered to take time off from her job in a bank after slapping a colleague and visits the small, backward island that her grandparents lived on when she was a child. When she arrives she becomes reacquainted with Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) a woman she briefly knew as a child and is shocked to find out that she is treated as a virtual slave by the other islanders. She is used as a sexual play thing by the men and for slave labour by the women. Although Hae-won is shocked at the behaviour of the islanders she is reluctant to become involved in their affairs and remains distant from the activities on the island.

After Bok-nam fails in an attempt to escape from the island with her ten year old daughter Yeon-hee (Ji-Eun Lee) she is merciously beaten by her husband. In the insuring violence, Yeon-hee hits her head on a rock and is killed. This marks the beginning of a violent and bloody final act in which Bok-nam finally snaps and takes out her revenge on the small island population.

It should be said at the outset that this is not an easy watch. I started eating a packet of M&Ms as the titles rolled but soon had to put them down. The audience watches as Bok-nam is brutally abused by most of the eight or so island population. She is stripped of all her dignity but still manages to remain hopeful of rescue. Shortly after this rescue fails, the viewing gets even more difficult with more horrific beatings and humiliation for Bok-nam which is then followed by over the top Korean violence which if you are familiar with the likes of I Saw the Devil might not be too shocking but even I who have become accustomed to Korean horror, felt my entire body clench on a number of occasions as the blood started to splatter. On one occasion the entire camera lens is covered with blood as Bok-nam goes about getting her revenge. The violence is met with psychological horror as Bok-nam stops briefly during her rampage to sharpen a scythe and scissors only to then give an elderly islander a haircut. This act is very creepy but provides some calm in an otherwise frantic final half hour. The sound of the steel on the sharpening stone sent shivers down my spine.

Yeong-hie Seo who was excellent in 2008’s The Chaser is even greater here. She has to undergo some quite humiliating acts and is treated like dirt during the first half of the film but manages to maintain an optimistic attitude. Her transformation towards the end is spectacular and bold as she appears to completely lose control. She appears possessed but underneath you can still see some semblance of love and compassion and that is a credit to her as an actress. She is truly terrific. Seong-won Ji is more uneven as the outsider. She sort of floats through the film and is unconvincing in the final scene. The supporting cast are all excellent and manage to come across as backwards, dumb and cruel. They reminded me of the sort of inbred character’s I saw in 2003’s American horror Wrong Turn but with less of a blood lust and more of a cruel superior nature. They really believe that Bok-nam is there to serve them and has no other use.   

The film isn’t as compelling as some of the great Korean thrillers such as Oldboy or Joint Security Area but stands up well on its own as a scary and unsettling genre film. It’s gruesome, troubling and violent but has love at its centre. I look forward to seeing what debut director Chul-soo Jang comes back with next.


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