When it came to revenge films, there was a time that you needed go no further than your local grindhouse. With films like Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, and Death Wish you really had no need to look elsewhere. With that said, the past decade has seen Korea has seemingly taken complete ownership of the revenge film with films like Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and I Saw the Devil. Now we have Bedevilled from first timer Chul-soo Jang. No, it is not a perfect, but it is a rather intense look at friendship and the bigger idea of being complicit through complacency.
Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) lives in Seoul and works as a loan officer. Following a unfortunate altercation with a co-worker, Hae-won is sent on a something of a forced vacation. She sets off for Moo-do, an island where she spent many of her younger years.
On the island, Hae-won is reunited with he childhood friend Bok-nam (Yeoung-hie Seo). It is pretty clear that the two women have led very different lives. Hae-won's life in Seoul has led her to be independent and perhaps a little indifferent to others around her. Bok-nam, on the other hand, has lived her entire life on the island where she has been treated like a slave, ridiculed by the elder woman and treated terribly by her abusive husband.
We watch as the two interact, clearly friends.but at decidedly different stages of their lives. We also watch as Bok-nam interacts with other island inhabitants and it isn't pretty. She is belittled by everyone. Her husband has sex with prostitutes while she listens from outside. She puts on a happy face when with Hae-won, but her thoughts are always with her daughter and helping her get away from this life.
What we initially thought was going to be the story of Hae-won quickly reveals itself to be tale of Bok-nam. It is a story of a woman enduring a lifetime of torment, a woman reaching the limits of her ability to endure, and a woman who snaps and takes her revenge on those who have wronged her.
Hae-won stands as proxy for the audience watching the film. It is an interesting construct of the film. We are forced to watch as Bok-nam is mentally, verbally, and physically abused. It is not enough that we must watch these things happen, but with Hae-won we are put right into the story. Our passive viewing is given a presence through Hae-won's passive allowance of this to happen. In a way, the finger is pointed not only at those doing the tormenting, but also at Hae-won and us for standing idly by and not offering to help.
Besides the interesting pointing of blame, Bedevilled has a visceral impact as well. While the first part of the film may move a little slowly, it has a cumulative effect as everything keeps piling up until Bok-nam reaches her breaking point and things get bloody as she inevitably takes violent and emotional revenge. Real bloody. Director Chul-soo Jang pulls no punches when it comes to the bloodletting.
Bedevilled is an interesting film. I think it may run a touch long and feel a bit slow early on, but there is something engrossing about it. The two sided attack of the actual events leading to and running through the bloody revenge combined with making the audience at least partially responsible really works.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in a ratio of 2.35:1. The film looks good, it benefits from really nice cinematography. Against the ugliness of so many of the people, the island always looks great. There is nice color saturation and level of detail. This is not Blu-ray levels, but it is a fine looking DVD.
The audio is a Dolby 5.1 track in its original Korean language. It is a good track. The dialogue is always clear and it does well with ambient sounds of the island. There is not much score to speak of, but that just helps the effectiveness of the island sounds.
Extras. There is not much to speak of, extras wise. There is a behind the scenes featurette which is just comprised of on set footage edited together. There are no interviews or anything. There is also a trailer.
Bottomline. This is a strong debut film for Chul-soo Jang. It is a film that leaves a mark. No, it is not perfect, but it is still quite effective. There really is nothing quite like a Korean revenge film. This is certainly worth a look.
Article first published as DVD Review: Bedevilled on Blogcritics.