At the turn of the century and a few years before, J-Horror exploded thanks to a number of successful films, and that success soon carried over and continued on Western shores. A number of classics emerged which took the ingredients of J-Horror, the slow-burning tension and climactic terror, while a huge number of imitators eventually diluted and drained the market. South Korea tried its hand too, coming up with a sizable number of hits, but somewhere along the way, and I’m not sure of the cultural reasons for this, K-horror emerged as something entirely separate, losing much of the supernatural and focusing instead of real human fears and terrors – kidnap, revenge, loss, guilt, violence, the collapse of the self. With obvious masterpieces such as Kim’s revenge trilogy, to lesser known films such as … K-horror has since transcended J-horror as the premium source of thrills in our bloody little world, and with Bedevilled you have as fine an example as you could ever hope for in your darkest dreams.
Ji Sung Won stars as Hae Won, a woman who appears to be fatigued, disillusioned, and stressed by city life in Seoul, decides to return to the island of her childhood after receiving numerous letters from her old friend Bok Nam. Bok Nam has remained on the island all of her life, and in parallel to Hae Won, wants an escape. The two women share some similarities at the start of the film, but it quickly becomes apparent that the women and their situations are entirely different. Bok Nam has led an extremely harsh life, being essentially a slave to everyone on the island and a figure of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse to almost everyone around her. Her husband and his friends are cruel and uncaring, and he seems to be taking an interest in their daughter which is the final straw which forces Bok Nam to try to make her escape from this hell, through Hae Won. Hae Won however, is shown to be incredibly passive and while she does not get involved in any of the abuse (though we see in flashbacks that she is far from innocent), she does nothing to prevent it even when given multiple opportunities. Bok Nam is shown to be a loving, sympathetic person, and thanks to an incredible performance by Seo Yeung Hee, we are even more profoundly impacted by what happens to her. Her performance conveys many emotions and she is extremely convincing as both powerless victim, hopeful innocent, and avenging angel. It’s a rare and astonishing performance. While more restrained, Ji Sung Won as Hae Won gives a very good performance as a selfish, hateful character whose redemption is extremely questionable – you will despise this character, you will despise the end of the film, but as unremittingly grim as it is, it is successful due to the performances of the two leads.
Director Jang Cheol Soo’s debut is cold, ambiguous, and undeniably powerful – there is a lot of beauty here, in the cinematography, in smaller moments, but once the film becomes washed in gore we are already feeling filthy and guilty as a powerless bystander. I like how the film first makes us think that Hae Won is going to be the focus, but quickly discards her as we drop into a nightmare. When tragedy strikes, it is shocking, inevitable, and few would feel that Bok Nam’s actions are not justified. It’s difficult to discuss the finer points of the movie without uncovering spoilers – it’s a similar film in tone to Oldboy etc, a thought-provoking revenge thriller where the good guys can never win in a world that wants to slowly beat them to death. This is a must watch for fans of Asian cinema, and really deserves to be seen by all movie fans.
Have you seen Bedevilled? How do you think it fares against similar Asian thrillers and what steps do you think Hollywood could take to emulate the success of these Eastern movies rather than simply remaking them? Let us know in the comments!