A beautiful but unkind young professional from Seoul goes back to the remote island where she grew up for a break. There she is reunited with her sweet-natured childhood friend Bok-nam, married to a violent man and badly mistreated by his family. Bok-nam bears the beatings and indignities she is subjected to for the sake of her daughter, but one day, a tragic event tips her over the edge and she turns from subservient wife into violent avenger.
Directed by Yang Chul-soo, this South Korean feature debut has the feel of a folk or fairy tale. Denouncing the oppression of women in Korean society, it tells a compelling story, but the characterisation is two-dimensional and it comes across as very heavy-handed. That said, it is interesting to note that the film shares similarities with another South Korean film released the same year. Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid was another slow-burn Korean film about the exploitation of a lower-class woman that culminated in a stunningly extravagant, violent dénouement. Considering also Yang Ik-joon’s Breathless (2009), it seems that what may come across as excessive to Western audiences is in fact a strong response to an acutely unfair and brutal state of affairs in Korean society. For further explanation of the context and the real events that inspired the film, see an extract from a promotional interview with Yang Chul-soo below.
Both Bedevilled and The Housemaid follow a similarly unusual structure, proceeding at a slow pace for most of the film until the abuse of the central character erupts into a spectacularly violent ending. In Bedevilled, the sudden change of tone makes the blood-splattered finale all the more shocking. Although flawed, Bedevilled paints an intriguing portrait of a woman faced with the most extreme injustice and creates an original and engaging horror heroine in Bok-nam.
PROMOTIONAL INTERVIEW WITH YANG-CHUL-SOO
To what extent is Bedevilled inspired by real events?
Yang Chul-soo: There were three shocking cases that shook Korean society, which had given me inspiration. First was the KIM Boo-nam case in 1991 when KIM, a 30-year-old woman, murdered a man who used to be her next-door neighbour and raped her when she was 9 years old. Second was the KIM Bo-eun/KIM Jin-gwan case in 1992 when KIM Bo-eun, with the help of her boyfriend KIM Jin-gwan, murdered her stepfather who had abused her sexually for 10 years. And the last was a case where a large group of high school boys had sexually abused two junior high school girls, who were sisters, in Milyang for over a year. Out of around 40, only three assaulters had received a mere 10 months’ sentence, and the police mishandled the case, one officer implying it was the girls’ fault. All three cases had extreme results because the bystanders showed no concern.
Why have you decided to tackle Korean women’s social status in your first feature film?
Women in Korean society are the weak, but they are not the weak kind. Women are discriminated against and have obligations under the feudalistic customs, but Korean society has in fact been maintaining itself as it is and developing because there are mothers who strived to protect their families. In reality, women and mothers are mostly given supporting roles, so I wanted to have a woman as the main lead in my film. The film is a personal dedication to my own mother and all the mothers in Korea.
Can you say some words about the gender politics of the movie?
I’m not sure how to describe this but although the film deals with gender issues, I had not considered politics in it. I only mirrored out the general relationships between Korean men and women that I had noticed, but without any political views. The film shows a complex aspect of the men oppressing the women, the suppressed women putting the men on a pedestal while oppressing another woman, and that woman to take revenge against those women and men. I believe this sort of evil circle happens because humans, regardless of their sexes, are weak beings.