Grotesque, disturbing revenge tale from savage isle
“Bedeviled” follows two women who grew up on a remote, savage island. One has never left the isle. The other has moved to Seoul and found a career, although life in the city has hardened and withered her heart. But when the urbanite returns for some soul-searching with her old friend, her rural hometown is hardly relaxing.
Instead, a bloody revenge tale unfolds in this feature debut by Jang Cheol-soo - Kim Ki-duk’s former assistant director. The early part of the film is an engaging examination of humanity, but in the end it turns into just another bloody gore item.
Seo Young-hee plays Bok-nam, a woman with ungroomed hair and darkened skin, whose life has been bound to the pastoral island populated by villainous, violent men and hateful old women. Constantly beaten by her husband and fatigued by hard labor, Bok-nam longs to flee to Seoul with her daughter. She dreams of a city life in which she would have milky white skin and wear chic dresses like her friend Hae-won (Ji Sung-won).
But the big city harbors its own evils, and Hae-won, a bank teller, has grown edgy and withdrawn. When asked to testify on the murder of a young woman, she turns her back. At work, she shuts herself off from human affection.
The islet she returns to for a retreat is hardly a paradise. Its isolated community proves to be a primitive epitome of human vices and evils. Beastly men routinely assault and rape Bok-nam, while her mother-in-law and female neighbors are eerily indifferent toward this mistreatment, eventually setting her on a ruthless path to revenge in the film’s second half.
Once Bok-nam strikes back, there is a strong sense of relief that comes from the overdue punishment, but her revenge goes way too far. When her attempt to escape the island leads to her daughter’s death, Bok-nam unleashes her anger and reaches out for a scythe.
The film keeps producing tension on screen with a speedy narrative and extreme contrasts of light and shade. But its bloody scenes overflow, and its early melodramatic intensity slackens as the villains are stereotyped and the revenge drags on.
Jang said the grotesque images are a thematic tool needed to build a revenge logic.
“Personally, I’m not a person who likes gore films,” he said after Wednesday’s press screening in Seoul. “I began thinking it was a melodrama, and while setting the level of expression along the way, those strong scenes came about so that [the heroine’s] unresolved emotions could find an outlet.”
Thriller / Korean
Opens on Sept. 2