Release Date: 02nd September 2010 (South Korea)
Running Time: 115 mins.
Director: Jang Cheol-Su
Writer: Choi Kwan-Young
Starring: Seo Young-Hee, Ji Sung-Won, Park Jung-Hak, Baek Su-Ryeon, Lee Ji-Eun, Je-Min, Bae Sung-Woo, Jo Duk-Je
When I picked up Bedevilled I expected a slasher film. The cover has a blood-spattered glowering young woman holding a scythe in a forest. What I got was a horror film but one similar to Eden Lake and Straw Dogs. People pushed to the brink and forced into savagery.
Hye-Won (Ji Sung-Won) lives and works in Seoul. She is a cold and focussed individual and these character traits lead her into a fight with a co-worker. As a result of this her boss tells her to take a vacation. Stumped for ideas Hye-Won eventually goes to Moo-do island, a place where her grandfather lived and a place where she made friends with an island girl named Kim Bok-Nam. When Hye-Won arrives, Kim Bok-Nam (Seo Young-Hee) is overjoyed to see her. It is clear the locals are behind the times. Rather worryingly Kim Bok-Nam is treated like a serf by them but this mistreatment will have disastrous consequences for all involved.
When I was watching Bedevilled I felt the spectre of Kim Ki-Duk emerge on screen. He and the director of Bedevilled, Jang Cheol-Su, share concrete connections since Jang Cheol-Su was assistant-director on Kim Ki-Duk’s films Samaritan Girl and Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring. Critics have accused Kim Ki-Duk in displaying misogyny in his films, especially Bad Guy and Samaritan Girl with their mix of sex and violence. What about Bedevilled?
Kim Ki-Duk’s influence is seen in the subject matter in Bedevilled as it features many, many uncomfortable moments of sexual abuse, violence, and hatred, a lot of it directed at women. However unlike Kim Ki-Duk’s films where I get the impression that the director is putting his mental anguish on the screen, Bedevilled is addressing issues and the cumulative effect of the action builds up to a bitter diatribe against misogyny and gender roles while offering a warning to women about how self-preservation risks making victims of others.
There are many moments when women are subjected to violence. The violence is graphic and brutal. That is bad in itself but what is worse is the sense that the violence is culturally accepted or at least easily ignored for many of the characters.
You’re an adult you should take care of yourself
The first character we are introduced to is Hye-Won. We do not see her for a while and instead we see the world of from her perspective as she is driving her car. The opening of the film takes place in night time Seoul and amidst the bright lights and bumper-to-bumper traffic. We witness two men being physically aggressive to a woman. The camera breaks off for a long shot as we see the woman pushed, prodded, and punched while passers-by try to avoid her. The camera cuts back to Hye-Won’s perspective as the woman leans into the open passenger side window begging for refuge. Hye-Won hears her pleas for help and rolls up the window leaving the woman to face the men abusing her.