Kim Bok-nam Salinsageonui Jeonmal (Bedevilled) (Chul-soo Jang, 2010)
You all know the story—or at least the beginning of it. In 1790, a British ship called the Bounty foundered on the rocks near what is now Pitcairn Island. Its captain, William Bligh, supposedly went stir-crazy after a time and had to be deposed by a number of mutineers, headed by one Fletcher Christian. The mutineers eventually settled on Pitcairn, with Polynesian wives, and founded a country, or at least a British protectorate. (For what it’s worth, Bligh and the loyalists were, in fact, let go, and founded nearby Norfolk Island.) Then began two hundred years of the Brits intermarrying and adapting to what Colleen McCullogh, whose husband hails from Pitcairn, infamously called “indigenous customs” involving the roles of women in society. There was a big blow-up last decade that ended with the first trial in Pitcairn history, with six men convicted of thirty-three counts of, had they been Americans, various degrees of statutory rape. The trial, and the inevitable media flurry, focused on the sexual assaults, but there was more than that; women were treated as mere objects, little more than chattel. (Any wonder why every woman who accused the men was no longer living on Pitcairn, most of them having fled to New Zealand?)
I’m not certain that’s the basis for Bedevilled, a film that at least one review I read today claimed “revitalized Korean horror” (I didn’t realize Korean horror needed revitalizing; the past few years have brought us Arang, Epitaph [review written, but not posted yet–stay tuned!], and The Red Shoes, among others), but the parallels are chilling. Of course, the movie is also well-informed by seventies rape-revenge flicks (Americans will be most familiar with I Spit on Your Grave, naturally, but the seventies rape-revenge thriller was a global phenomenon, at least briefly), but you put a woman and her daughter on a remote, sparsely-populated island and have the entire male population treat her like a slave (and all the older women forcing her to do their share of the work)? It may look Korean (despite the rather ridiculous make-up jobs), but it sure smells like Pitcairn, especially when the woman’s husband starts making eyes at the daughter. But I’m getting well ahead of myself.
Plot: Hae-won (Harmony‘s Seong-won Ji) works at a large bank in Seoul. Things start going bad for her afer she witnesses a crime, and both her work and personal lives suffer. Her boss forces her to take a vacation, so she heads off to see her childhood friend Bok-nam (The Chaser‘s Yeong-hie Seo). Bok-nam is thrilled to see her, but Hae-won quickly realizes something’s wrong; the entire population of the island, save a senile old grandfather, treats Bok-nam like dirt. Hae-won begins to bond with Bok-nam’s daughter, Yeon-hee (Ji-eun Lee in her feature debut), but Yeon-hee is almost of an age where she can start assisting her mother in doing all the other inhabitants’ work. Bok-nam, who seems resigned to her own fate, is desperate to save her daughter—but Hae-won, cold, distant, and saddled with her own problems, is reluctant to get involved. That is, of course, assuming the island’s inhabitants are willing to let her leave in the first place…
The main problem with Bedevilled is that it’s too long. The climactic scene happens just halfway into the film, which leads to the big third-act denouement, but then the film keeps going, mostly to wrap up some unanswered questions. All well and good, except that segment goes, oh, twenty minutes, contains yet another big twist (that really didn’t need to be there), etc. On the other hand, with the exception of some pacing problems (setting the climax where it is is synecdochic, not an anomaly), the first two-thirds of the movie are captivating—well-acted, gorgeously-shot, and with some darn fine screenwriting courtesy Kwang-young Choi (Secret Reunion). This was only the guy’s second script—I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of once he’s mastered the art of trimming. But if you are okay with the whole rape-revenge theme (I will warn you that at least one scene, about twenty minutes into the film, is probably triggering) and you like a lot of character development in your drama/thrillers (I wouldn’t call this a horror film at all), then Bedevilled should be right up your alley. ***