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Original Title:
Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal

South Korea 2010

Thriller, Drama

Jang Cheol-soo

Seo Yeong-hee
Ji Seong-Won
Park Jeong-hak
Baek Soo-ryeon
Bae Seong-woo
Woo Yong

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Story: Hae-won (Ji Seong-Won) works in a bank and doesn't care about the problems of other people. She is coldhearted and doesn't even want to testify for the police, although she has been witness of a violent act. Eventually, she gets into some problems with her employer and has to take some days off. Her free time she wants to spend in her home village which is on a secluded island. She is surprised how backward life still is there but she meets her old childhood friend Bok-nam (Seo Yeong-hee) again who lovingly takes care of her. In time Hae-won realizes, though, that her friend is treated everything but friendly by her husband and the other villagers. Bok-nam has once tried to escape her life but without any success. Since she also has to take care of her little daughter and only once every few days a boat is coming whose driver also knows everyone on the island Bok-nam has to bear with her harsh life. However, an accident changes everything and Bok-nam is now seeking to take revenge on everyone who has made her life a living hell.

Review: Sometimes you have already heard a few things about a movie and yet you don't exactly know what to expect of it. "Bedevilled" is a revenge thriller, but actually only during the last third. The rest of the movie is a very well-done drama that illuminates the path that leads the protagonist into madness. What's making "Bedevilled" so unique is its atmosphere and that the focus lies on the characters which is why we are eventually cheering for Bok-nam when she is on her vendetta. It seems that she has become a mad killer but the sympathy we have for her make her gruesome acts seem just and in moral respects we can't really condemn her. Naturally, this puts the audience into an unpleasent situation, but the suffering that Bok-nam had to endure all the time was even the more cruel because of its subtle and oftentimes even very obvious nature. "Bedevilled" is therefore an extremely gritty thriller and this in spite of its very beautiful landscape shots on the almost idyllic looking island.

What's catching the viewer's eye at first is the very nice cinematography. But that shouldn't be a surprise since director Jang Cheol-soo has been a former assistant director for Kim Ki-duk and his movies "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring" or "Samaria". In his debut Jang creates a cold world in a very innovative fashion which is of a two-fold nature, though. Hae-won is the coldhearted business woman, who doesn't care about the feelings of others. Therefore, she is the personification of a city person. She hasn't got one bit of civil courage, is single and apparently has no friends either. This cold, dark picture is seemingly brightened up when Hae-won comes to her home village. The pictures of nature are instantly casting a spell on us and the viewer almost feels like a tourist on this remote island. It's impressive how director Jang manages to create the feeling that we are in fact on a visit on that island!

Since the pictures manage to take us on a trip to this "holiday island" - and astonishingly enough in some scenes we are even believing to perceive smells or the heat of the blazing sun - the atmosphere becomes more dense by the minute. That's even more praiseworthy because Hae-won can't work as a character to sympathize with at all. We even despise her. With Bok-nam it's a bit different. It seems as if she wants to relive nice childhood memories but Hae-won remains emotionally distant, altough she is a bit more coming out of her shell around her. What's also interesting is that there are also some hints at a homoerotic relationship between the two.
Soon the dark sides in the life of Bok-nam become apparent. The buoyant woman is oppressed in the extremely patriarchical society on the island and naturally an immense amount of physical violence is added to that as well.

The oppression Bok-nam experiences has an especially nutrient medium at its core since no outsider can intervene, of course. While her husband is a good-for-nothing who can't even fish right she has to do all the physical work. But not only she, every woman on the island works in the fields or is diving for seafood with fishing nets while men are enjoying themselves. Bok-nam isn't just beaten but even treated like a dog or she is raped - not just by her own husband but by his brother as well - and especially the psychological raping is distressing. During one scene she sits in front of a room in which her husband is just having sex with a prostitute while she eats lunch with a face as if it were the most normal thing in the world. It's almost unbearable how sick and completely rotten in its core people on the island are. The beautiful exterior shots of nature are thus in sharp contrast to the cruel world of a disgusting society. Furthermore, Seo Yeong-hee does a great acting job so that she makes the changes her character undergoes look fully comprehensible.

In the end one incident leads to Bok-nam going insane and taking a sickle into her hands and wander over the island murdering everyone in her way. You can't really hold it against her, though, on the contrary we are even asking ourselves how she managed to stay sane for such a long time! Her husband has touched her daughter or is certainly about to do it and when Bok-nam is asking her friend for help, she doesn't want to believe her. Escape seems impossible. So she kills her way through all the island inhabitants in a bloody orgy. Even though nothing beforehand gave us a hint at what sort of brutality is awaiting us there are in fact some scenes which will downright make you want to throw up. But this change of mood is actually not that sudden as it might seem. Retrospectively, we realize that we actually expected, no, hoped for things to evolve the way they do. What could have become a simple message like "Don't close your eyes to injustice and show civil courage" actually denies us a catharsis we might have hoped for and instead just reflects on what is happening. "Bedevilled" is an atmospheric thriller of a different kind and a drama about the patriarchic roots of Korean society and what's making a human degenerate: inactivity when someone is experiencing suffering.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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