South Korean writer-director Jang Cheol-so made a big impression on the Fantastic Fest audience with his debut film Bedevilled, so much so that it was awarded Best Film by the attendees. It’s a beautifully shot and well acted portrayal of a strangely dysfunctional matriarchal family on a South Korean island. Hard to pin down into a single genre, the film spends a big section of its run-time establishing the hell it is living in the rural village, population maybe 12.
The film starts off following the cold and callous Hye-Won (Ji Seong-won), a bank loan manager with a bit of an anger management problem. When not screaming at an old woman customer or slapping a friend over a misunderstanding, she’s busy insulting her friends, drinking too much Guinness and just doing the kinds of things that make your boss say “Hey go on vacation” in that “You’re probably fired” kind of way. Oh, she also also rather coldly and shamelessly refuses to identify a group of young punks who viciously assaulted a girl in front of her. So it goes, and so goes she, off to the remote island of her birth to stay at her deceased grandfather’s place.
Upon her arrival, she’s excitedly met by her one time childhood friend Kim Bok-Nam (Seo Yeong-Hie), a cute and bubbly tanned farm girl curious about her friend’s life in Seoul. Things start off normally enough, though soon it becomes apparent this island is an insane mess. Bok-Nam’s husband is physically and mentally abusive and the village matriarch is an old school crazy bitch with no sympathy for Bok-Nam or her daughter.
It would take away far too much of the film to reveal the full workings of the island and the relationships of all those there, but rest assured they are vile, wrong, and evil. Aside from her daughter, Bok-Nam has no one on the island looking out for and, indeed, every single on of them wrongs her, or beats, and eventually breaks her. Even her one time friend turns her back on her, leaving her alone to face her trials and tribulations. And that’s when things get weird. And bean pastey.
While it takes some time to get the insanity, and then some time to wrap it up, Bedevilled is ultimately enjoyable and definitely worth a watch. It’s a bit too long and has a few too many “Hey it’s over-wait no it’s not” moments, but I felt the film stylishly made, well acted, well written, and created a dark and believable situation in which a woman could be pushed to the edge, and over it. For an American release, I wouldn’t be opposed to this being called Day of the Woman, as it really is about a woman who is just unjustifiably beaten down and destroyed taking vengeance. Did she take it too far? I honestly didn’t think so, in terms of a fictional world.
If I had any problem, it wasn’t with any technical or acting aspect, but in the character of Hye-Won. She’s a beautiful girl, but completely cold and frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about her in terms of life and death, but she’s, in a way, the person we’re rooting for.
Overall, Bedevilled is a very good film definitely worth your time to track down and watch, despite it’s slightly awkward pacing.