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March 2011

Bedevilled

cast: Seo Yeong-hei, Ji Seong-won, and Hwang Min-ho

director: Jang Cheol-su

111 minutes (18) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2

RATING: 9/10
review by A.E. Grace

Bedevilled

Bedevilled truly took me by surprise. When I sat down to watch this movie I was expecting something similar to my past experience of Korean horror films, which has never met standards like this. They were films about scary dolls, and all that cute stuff that Asian cinema does so well. If I'd been told this movie was about a gothic Lolita who shoots flames from her frilly knickers, I probably would have believed it. Instead what I got was this amazing piece of world cinema, built up of so many compelling layers. I swear; if this wasn't a movie it'd make a bloody good onion.

Crossing the genres of crime, drama, and - oh yes - horror, this film as an absolute masterpiece. If they don't start showing students this movie in film schools then it'll be because it's far too ambitious a venture to even attempt to replicate it. The story revolves around two women: hard-hearted Hae-won, who lives in Seoul where she works for a finance company, and down-trodden Bok-nam, living a peasant life on a small undeveloped island off the mainland. The pair made friends as children, before Hae-won left to live a life of luxury, leaving her best friend doomed to a life of slavery and rape.

The first half of the film is a real heart-warming story, which absorbed me entirely in the stunning scenery and the subtle blossoming of their childhood and adult friendship. This was offsetting alongside the lead female's tragic life of servitude, which had me tearing up more than once. There is a point in this first half, when Bok-nam is taunted by her bullying husband and her face gets covered in red nail varnish, and I thought 'A-huh! It looks like blood. Surely this foreshadows something...' And thinking about it now, I certainly wasn't wrong.

Bok-nam loses the one thing that keeps her going, despite the beatings, despite her horrid life - and even her best friend betrays her. Suddenly she has only her conscience to guide her, but it's drowned in what soon turns into a psychopathic state. Cue the third act, and bam! Psycho scythe-wielding woman gets her revenge on everyone who mistreated her, including her dear childhood friend. The scenes are deliberately gruesome, and a real shock to the system when the first attack occurs. Yet because of the subtlety of the build up, the slow pacing, the heart-wrenching longing we have to release Bok-nam from the torture she endures, this startling occurrence feels absolutely natural. I found myself empathising with a serial murderer, and I know it's a successful movie when that happens.

There was a real feminine touch to this movie, and this was presented carefully throughout the entire piece. Men are considered by the elderly women to be of great value, despite the fact that nearly all the males on the island have beaten and abused Bok-nam; they are blind to their own potential on this tiny, male-led island. The two leads - tough heroines by their own rights - smash through this barrier, and as a woman I found this really exhilarating. The second leading female lays down at the end, and as the camera pans out it's revealed that the island itself resembles her in its shape; it's as if the island embodied Bok-nam's suffering.

There's a really sweet moment when Bok-nam, in between killings, gives the only decent guy on the island - a mute old man - a haircut, to show her respect for him. It is delicate touches like this which made this movie so climactic, and had me in tears by the finish. The dialogue was just as smart as the story and filming, with lines such as "I bet you have men swarming around you like flies on a corpse" - foreshadowing the gruesome events later to come, whilst reflecting Hae-won's cold, dead nature to boot. The subtitles aren't remotely distracting from any of this, because just like so many of the film's attributes, they just seemed to blend in.

As for the acting, my utter adoration for the movie speaks for this. The leading actress totally captured my heart, and if it wasn't for the commendable performances throughout the film then this immense ordeal could never have been depicted with such grace. Try as I might, I can't do this film justice in words. You'll have to watch it and see for yourselves. This film is highly recommended on a must-see, must-own basis. The DVD included two trailers and some very detailed behind-the-scenes footage. If you're a crime lover, a drama enthusiast, a film novice, an Asian cinema fanatic or just really stoked on horror, this one is absolutely made for you. I'm pretty sure that broad genre-span includes everybody who owns a television and a DVD player, right?



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