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Bedeviled [Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal] (2010)

bedevilledI’ve never seen such a soul sucking and soul crushing film as “Bedeviled” in my life. That’s not at all a negative remark about Jang Cheol-soo’s drama thriller. It’s just my warning that if you go in to “Bedeviled,” be prepared for a film with absolutely no silver lining or hopeful plot twist. Like “Martyrs,” it’s a trip down the darkside of humanity, but you know, unlike “Martyrs,” this is a great film from beginning to end. It’s not often that Asian revenge pictures are given a sensationalist tone, but Cheol-soo’s drama is gut wrenching and really offers a glimpse at a small chunk of the world where sadness is pretty much a way of life.

Hae-won is a middle-ranking office worker at Seoul, who is given to a tense and stressful lifestyle. Anxious to get out of her highly competitive life, she finally decides to answer letters from her long lost friend Bok-nam. Hae-won was raised in a small island of Mudo, and decides to begrudgingly answer her friends’ letters and visit the island for a chance to get away. Before long Hae-won is a witness to a small island that has not only failed to progress, but is in exactly the same place it was when she left it.

And that’s not at all a good thing. Approached by Bok-nam, who is relatively clingy when they finally re-unite, Hae-won is shocked to bear witness to much of the inner workings of the island that almost functions on the tears and blood of the people within it. Bok-nam, in particular, is a long suffering woman whose only small glimmer of happiness is her young daughter. She’s stuck in place thanks to a domineering husband, and a group of female elders that not only encourage the violence her husband inflicts on her, but completely dismisses it when Bok-nam seeks some form of justice and punishment for him.

What Hae-won watches is not only the gradual destruction of her friends’ humanity, but how some sections of society and civilization tend to be stuck in their ways, even if it’s a process that involves violence both physical and sexual. Bok-nam is a young woman who can probably be the one who decides to speak up and change the way Mudo works, offering some sense of salvation for Bok-nam, but when the elders decide that she’s overstepped her boundaries, her vacation inevitably becomes a struggle to get off of the island and back home, before she’s trapped there forever and stuck in the exact same routine of dehumanizing violence.

The performances are collectively fantastic, but the turn by actress Seo Young‑hee is absolutely incredible, especially in how she depicts this woman who’s been broken and completely stripped of all dignity and self respect, until the very end. Jang Cheol-soo’s “Bedeviled” is a surefire brilliant tale of pure evil, human misery, and systematic violence carried down in to generations, and should be seen for its stunning acting, brilliant narrative, and incredibly heartbreaking finale.