Written by: Ralph Wooster
Directed by: Chul-soo Jang
Cast: Yeong-hie Seo, Seong-won Ji, Min-ho Hwang
Most of us, save a fortunate few, have found ourselves at one point or another a bit lower in the social pecking order than we’d have liked or felt we deserve. It happens. Nobody’s king of the mountain forever and there’s always someone out there, most everywhere we go, waiting for us to fall. The Masochist. It’s the person connected to that steel toed boot you feel kicking you as you try to crawl behind the toilet (metaphorically speaking or otherwise). He derives pleasure from your pain–and it’s feeding time.
Maybe it was a particularly bad boss, a bully in school, or an abusive spouse. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, think back. If it came down to it, just how hard would that person have had to push before you snapped? How much daily torment could you have endured before you finally went postal, picked up a number ten pencil and rammed it in their eye? Well, unless the state is paying for your three square and a roof right now, you probably don’t know, but you, me, everyone, we all have a breaking point. Pushed hard enough, you’ll find it.
The 2010 movie Bedevilled is about one such person who is pushed beyond all endurance. Kim Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) lives on the tiny South Korean island of Moo-do with her husband, daughter, and six other people. Kim can’t catch a break, ever, and she’s kind of simple. The one person she can reach out to for help is her childhood friend Hae-won (Seong-won Ji), who moved away long ago.
This movie is a straight up masterpiece, a work of art. It should be hanging in The Louvre, but the first time I watched it, I didn’t get it. Oh, I knew it was good, but it’s a foreign language film. I was reading subtitles. There’s only so much I could comprehend in one viewing with my eyes constantly drawn to the bottom of the screen.
My recommendation, watch it three times. Watch it the second time to fully absorb the human drama as it unfolds and the third time for the symbolism and cinematography. This movie has great depth. Its beauty and horror must be peeled back in layers to be fully appreciated.
Bedevilled is first and foremost a drama but don’t let that put you off. If you’re looking for hot pulsing jets of arterial spray, there’s plenty to be had, but the director Chul-soo Jang engineered this movie around a basic human truth: We care about the people we know. We don’t give a flying flip about the ones we don’t.
Strangers die every day. They’re ten o’clock news. We might care on some numb, far removed level, but it’s just not the same as if it were a co-worker, a friend, or family member. That hits us where we live. Those people matter. We can feel that.
Heck, anybody with a video camera, a few idle friends, and some stage blood can make a horror movie, but if there’s no emotional connection between the audience and those who are about to get whacked, well …who cares? They’re just ten O’clock news.
The pace in Bedevilled is slow. It’s deliberate. I doubt there’s anything in this movie Jang did that wasn’t. These characters mattered to me. I knew them. I don’t think that could have happened without taking things down a notch. I needed to be a part of their lives, to walk in their shoes, and that took time.
The lulling effect of the pace and the fact that I had such strong connection with these people was like a one-two punch that made what came all the more visceral and shocking. Hollywood horror flicks don’t invest so heavily in their characters and frankly, Americans probably wouldn’t buy tickets to see them if they did. We like our movies to fit neatly within genres. Drama or horror? Pick one. This one doesn’t fit, but my God, what a kick. It was like being shot in the face (but in a good way).
The lead, Yeong-hie Seo should have won the 2010 Academy Awards Best Actress for this film. Yeah, I’m talking to you Natalie Portman, you and that good ol’ boys club, Hollywood. If you want to sleep at night, box that little statue up and ship it postage paid, South Korea, post haste. In all seriousness though, I can’t think of the last time an actor’s performance made my mouth literally fall open, like I was an idiot catching flies. I was in awe and I think you will be too. Seo is that good.
If I compare Bedevilled to an American movie, it’s got to be Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade. Both movies are utterly brilliant carefully crafted dramas and both are punctuated with horror. However, Bedevilled takes what Sling Blade doesn’t show and spatters it gleefully across the screen.
Bad karma and bean paste. Comeuppance and bloody sweet revenge. Get some.