Director: Jang Cheol-soo
Run time: 1h 56m
A mesmerising Seo Young-hee performance elevates this slow-burn-turned-bloody revenge tale set on a claustrophobic and remote island
When contributing to Korea’s packed revenge genre, it seems necessary to produce something unique and perhaps even newly confronting. On this front, Director Jang has met the challenge.
While the overall arch of the revenge narrative is still familiar, the biggest departure here is the film’s pacing – a slow-burn account of domestic abuse eventually leading to a sickle-swinging, blood-covered finale.
Perhaps the most visceral shock the film provides is the transition between these two paces. Unless you have avoided all details of the films, expectations are set to revenge, but Bedevilled makes us wait.
What really makes the film work is the star-turn central performance of Seo Young-hee, who manages to land a character transition from naïve islander to certified killing machine, providing plenty of emotional depth to the events which caused that evolution.
However, our attention is first drawn to Hae-won (Ji Sung-won), a restive office worker who is struggling to square her competitive mentality with her stalling career.
After Hae-won snaps and slaps a colleague for mistakenly thinking she had locked her in a toilet, she is forced to take leave and heads to see her old friend Bok-nam (Seo) on Mudo – a sparsely populated Southern island where she spent her childhood.
While Hae-won receives a warm welcome from Bok-nam, meeting the island’s other more backward and threatening inhabitants creates an uneasy atmosphere, one where the dread creeps and festers.
Hae-won begins to learn of the bleak existence of her friend on this regressive outpost, where Bok-nam is abused by her husband Man-jong (Park Jeong-hak), sexually pursued by his brother and treated as a slave by the island’s selection of toxic and bullying characters. Everyone has a breaking point though...
Bedevilled is a difficult watch as it attempts, and succeeds, in making you feel Bok-nam’s pain and anger. It does this over a sustained period of torment, one you must bear with her. If it is hard for you, imagine how it feel for people in Bok-nam’s position.
Some audiences struggle with extended casts of unlikeable characters and there are plenty here, but just be grateful you are not stuck on an island with them.
The film is not just about those easy-to-hate antagonists though, it also directs our anger to the silent bystanders. The ones complicit in abuse as they turn their heads from suffering they could intervene in.
Making his directorial debut, Jang Cheol-soo, who worked as an assistant director on the Kim Ki-duk’s Samaritan Girl and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, manages to demonstrates some of Director Kim’s shock-and-awe ability here.
A slightly flabby final passage means Bedevilled does not quite stick the landing, one that could have been fixed by a harsher editor shuffling some scenes to the Blu-ray extras folder.
Overall, that does not distract from providing a dread-filled and testing watch, but for those who can stand with Bok-nam, there is that guilty rush of revenge pleasure a sickle-swing away.
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