Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말) – ★★★★☆

Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말)

Bedevilled (김복남 살인사건의 전말)

Stressed from city life and witnessing an horrific case of misogynistic violence, attractive thirty-something Hae-won (Hwang Geum-hee (황금희) is forced by her employer into taking vacation time to recuperate. At a loss what to do, Hae-won finally decides to acknowledge the requests from her oldest friend Bok-nam (Seo Yeong-hee (서영희) and return to her hometown, a small island off the coast of Korea that is home to a mostly-elderly farming community. Yet upon her arrival Hae-won quickly begins to notice the strange machinations of the villagers as well as the scandalous torture and abuse Bok-nam receives daily, until a further terrible tragedy occurs that has bloodcurdling ramifications for them all.

Bok-nam is overjoyed when childhood friend Hae-won returns to the island

Bok-nam is overjoyed when childhood friend Hae-won returns to the island

The story of Bedevilled – or more literally translated as The Whole Story of the Kim Bok-nam Murder Case – is one of those special cinematic events that occurs far too rarely in the film industry. The debut feature by director Jang Cheol-soo (who had previously assisted indie master Kim Ki-duk), with a meagre ₩700 million ($636,363) budget and no big named stars (reportedly Kim Hye-soo and Jeon Do-yeon both turned down roles), Bedevilled ultimately premiered to high praise at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival as part of International Critics’ Week. From there, the horror/thriller toured a further 18 festivals across five continents, secured a host of awards for director Jang and lead actress Seo Yeong-hee, as well as hauling an impressive $1,130,829 at the Korean box office during its run.

The film’s success is wholly deserved and is chiefly due to the manner in which the narrative seamlessly merges socially-conscious, feminist drama with popular generic conventions. Through the character of Bok-nam, Bedevilled repeatedly reveals the numerous ways in which women are psychologically, emotionally, physically and sexually abused, not only by antagonists symbolic of patriarchal culture but also through the acceptance of such abuse as ‘normal’ by older generations of women. While men are often the perpetrators of shocking physical tortures on kindly Bok-nam, it’s the cruel words of the female elders, who scold her for attempting to deviate from abuse, that truly inspire internal torment and anger within the persecuted young woman and force audiences to engage and empathise with her plight.

The women on the rural island community are forced to endure horrific abuse, particularly kindly Bok-nam

Women on the rural island community are forced to endure horrific abuse, particularly kindly Bok-nam

Director Jang Cheol-soo and screenwriter Choi Kwan-yeong brilliantly build tension through depicting such abhorrent treatment, exploring the cruelties endured by women in isolated rural communities in ways both insightful and creative, escalating the drama to unbearable levels until the narrative takes a dramatic turn into bloodthirsty – and very much cathartic – genre territory. Ironically the tonal shift feels simultaneously shocking yet wholly natural, due to the intensification of atrocities combined with actress Seo Yeong-hee’s sympathetic turn as Bok-nam, as despite the gore it’s impossible not to support her murderous rampage and she hacks her way through those who have wronged her with palpable feminist righteousness.

Seo Yeong-hee received a number of awards at home and abroad for her performance within Bedevilled, and she certainly equips herself well as the put-upon Bok-nam. Seo manages to make the character more than simply a victim of terrible oppression by conveying Bok-nam’s inherent strength and fierce loyalty in the face of adversity. This is all the more impressive given that her screen time is somewhat limited due to the initial narrative alignment that focuses on Hae-won, before jarringly altering to Bok-nam’s tale of hardship. It is however a wise move, as Hwang Geum-hee’s Hae-won is particularly cold and serves the story much better in a supporting role. The rest of the cast are also highly effective in their performances and seem to take great enjoyment in portraying the villainous islanders. Of special note is Baek Soo-ryeon as the evil matriarch, who is a real joy to hate.

Yet Bedevilled is not without faults. The narrative structure is at times unbalanced, and on occasion seems to forget that certain characters exist as they disappear for periods of time before they suddenly reemerge or simply never return, as is the case with one such role. In terms of directing, the film is quite rough around the edges, but interestingly this is also part of the charm. However despite such issues, the central feminist concerns shine through and leave a lasting impression thanks to a wonderfully executed scene in which the island and Hae-won’s body are faded into each other to create a powerful metaphor, and some highly charged bookend scenes in which the notion of sisterhood is emphasised in order to improve women’s rights.

Despite the bloodshed, Bok-nam's feminist rampage is wonderfully cathartic

Despite the bloodshed, Bok-nam’s feminist rampage is wonderfully cathartic

Verdict:

Bedevilled is a brilliantly entertaining debut by director Jang Cheol-soo. The success of the film lies in the way the narrative seamlessly merges a socially-conscious, feminist drama with popular horror/thriller generic conventions. Featuring a wonderful performance by Seo Yeong-hee who conveys the innate strength of oppressed women who are pushed too far, and with violence that is cathartic and enjoyable rather than repulsive, Bedevilled is a fantastically entertaining film that leaves a strong and lasting impression.

★★★★☆

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North Korean spy Ryu-hwan disguises himself as village idiot Dong-gu

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게) – ★★☆☆☆

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게) is responsible for breaking several notable records in Korean cinematic history upon release. The film surpassed all expectations to earn the biggest opening day for a domestic film with 497,560 admissions; the following day another benchmark was set as it scored a whopping 919,035 admissions, the largest haul in a single day for a Korean film. With such an impressive start, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Secretly, Greatly took only 36 hours to pass the coveted one million admissions milestone, the fastest Korean film to do so. And to cap it all off, the film won the Citizen’s Choice Award at the 2013 Puchon International Film Festival.

With such incredible success it would be reasonable to assume that Secretly, Greatly must therefore be an outstanding piece of cinema, but unfortunately that is far from the truth. While it begins confidently, the film quickly becomes submerged beneath pointless supporting characters and melodrama, with the belated action sequences and nationalist agenda bland and uninspiring. Competently directed by Jang Cheol-soo (장철수) yet lacking in substance, Secretly, Greatly is ultimately only for fans of the original webcomic and the extremely handsome lead actors.

North Korean spy Ryu-hwan disguises himself as village idiot Dong-gu

North Korean spy Ryu-hwan disguises himself as village idiot Dong-gu

North Korean soldier Won Ryu-hwan (Kim Soo-hyeon (김수현) has trained relentlessly to be the best in his unit, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. His superiors give Ryu-hwan a mission – to infiltrate South Korea under the cover identity of Dong-gu, the mentally ill fool of a shanty town, and to await further instructions. Taking to his new identity with patriotism and verve, Ryu-hwan slowly becomes disillusioned as time passes and with no word from his homeland. Yet one day out of the blue rival Northern soldier Ri Hae-rang (Park Ki-woong (박기웅) shows up in the neighbourhood, sporting a wannabe rocker identity. Adding further distress, junior soldier Ri Hae-jin (Lee Hyun-woo (이현우) also appears as a high school student. Yet just as the former rivals begin to form a brotherhood, their country calls them into action but their hearts and minds pull them in different directions.

Secretly, Greatly begins well, as Ryu-hwan is given orders by a scarred and scary general on a dark and snowy desolate beach. The foreboding sense of danger is wonderfully and skillfully undermined as the film then cuts to his new identity as Dong-gu, and the harassment and ridicule he experiences from the local townspeople. The editing is superb during these scenes as everything Dong-gu does, from falling over to sneezing, is all meticulously planned but results in physical comedy, and is highly entertaining to watch. The humour derived from the great contrast is amusing, especially in watching Dong-gu being humiliated despite his impressive skill set.

Ryu-hwan is joined by two other top spies, who form an uneasy fraternity

Ryu-hwan is joined by two other top spies, who form an uneasy fraternity

Yet once the opening has passed, the film very quickly becomes incredibly tedious. In the attempt to show Ryu-hwan’s life is far removed from the glory he imagined, he is inundated with bland, everyday problems. Often these problems are not even his, but those of the local community. The variety of inhabitants that are introduced into the story are completely one-dimensional and serve no purpose other than to provide momentary distractions for Ryu-hwan. Cliches and stereotypes abound, featuring the struggling single mother, the high school bully, the sexy girl with a heart of gold, and so on. None of them are developed into interesting characters, and the sheer number of them halts any development of the main protagonists themselves. Rather, their inclusion instigates a number of short stories that offer brief instances of comedy and/or drama, before being completely forgettable.

Likewise, the addition of wannabe rocker Hae-rang is a wholly wasted opportunity to initiate rivalry and bring some kind of direction to the wandering narrative. Hae-jin fares much better upon entry to the community, instigating mystery and action which is welcome. Yet that too quickly disintegrates as the three forge an unlikely kinship at a community picnic, such is the excitement within the shanty town for the spies.

The aimless story finally shifts gears in the final act as a North Korean general begins a special protocol, forcing Secretly, Greatly back into becoming an action film. Yet for three supposedly top agents the action is very dull and lacking in thrills, while the additional melodrama doesn’t carry any weight. In attempting to please all factions of the audience with elements from all genres, Secretly, Greatly manages to ultimately satisfy no-one.

Finally employing his lethal skills, Ryu-hwan fights for justice

Finally employing his lethal skills, Ryu-hwan fights for justice

Verdict:

Secretly, Greatly is a record breaking film, although unfortunately that doesn’t mean that it’s of high quality. While competently directed by Jang Cheol-soo and with a fun opening, things quickly become tedious due to an array of one dimensional stereotypes that flit throughout the aimless narrative, while the drama and action are bland and uninspired. Secretly, Greatly’s successes seems to be based on fans of the original comic strip stories and of handsome actors Kim Soo-hyeon, Park Ki-woong and Lee Hyun-woo, as there is little else to recommend.

★★☆☆☆

Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제17회 부천국제판타스틱영화제) Reviews
The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

PiFan 2013: Puchon Choice

The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

The 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

With the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival gearing up for it’s 17th installment, a large variety of films have been selected to showcase the diverse genre filmmaking talent across the globe.

There are some wonderfully titled categories throughout the program that emphasise the dedication to popular cinema, and within each are an eclectic selection of Korean films that highlight the many and varied productions emerging from the country.

This article will explore the films within the ‘Puchon Choice’ category, which contains one current and highly popular feature film from director Jang Cheol-su, and several noteworthy shorts that explore a host of topics through genre frameworks.

Puchon Choice

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Secretly, Greatly (은밀하게 위대하게)

Director: Jang Cheol-soo (장철수)

Synopsis: Based on the popular webcomic and still enjoying a healthy run at the box office, director Jang’s Secretly, Greatly has broken several records – biggest opening day (497,560), most admissions in one day (919,035) and the fastest film to cross the one million mark (36 hours) (Source: Kobiz). The success has largely been attributed to the three heartthrob actors within the film, notably Kim Soo-hyun whose star power has increased dramatically. This will be the first showing of the film with English subtitles in Korea, so fans will be quick to get tickets.  Please see below for the trailer.

Buchon Choice: Short 1

8

8

8

Director: Lee Sang-il (이상일)

Synopsis: There is precious little information about director Lee’s 3 minute short fiction film, but judging from the stills it appears to be an abduction horror/thriller set in an apartment.

Two Boys and a Sheep (소년과 양)

Two Boys and a Sheep (소년과 양)

Two Boys and a Sheep (소년과 양)

Director: Lee Hyeong-seok (이형석)

Synopsis: This 18 minute fiction gets its international premiere at PiFan 2013, and features several protagonists quarreling over the titular sheep. Looks to be one of the more quirky offerings from the festival.

When the Moon is on the Wane (달이 기울면)

When the Moon is on the Wane (달이 기울면)

When the Moon is on the Wane (달이 기울면)

Director: Jeong So-yeong (정소영)

Synopsis: In a village full of tilting houses only one woman – Jae-ah – stays behind to wait for her brother. An intriguing premise that hints at exploring the notion of community and family, as well as history and memory and how they erode over time.

Buchon Choice: Short 2

Dirty Harry (더티혜리)

Dirty Harry (더티혜리)

Dirty Harry (더티혜리)

Director: Lee Yo-seob (이요섭)

Synopsis: Director Lee’s 28 minute short explores teenage pregnancy. When Harry discovers her best friend Crush is pregnant, she tracks down the father – a delivery boy from a local Chinese restaurant.

The Rumblings (밀청)

The Rumblings (밀청)

The Rumblings (밀청)

Director: Choi Ju-young (최주용)

Synopsis: Mi-yeon lives a monotonous life ever since her husband passed away, and one day begins to listen in her neighbor’s conversations. But what started as fun suddenly turns serious.

A Stranger Dream (이몽)

A Stranger Dream (이몽)

A Stranger Dream (이몽)

Director: Tak Sae-woong (탁세웅)

Synopsis: Horror/thriller A Stranger Dream depicts a young woman who witnesses the murder of a man living in a luxurious mansion – in her dreams. They are so vivid, and continually recur, that the woman then decides to seek out the man and warn him.

Festival News Korean Festivals 2013 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival (제17회 부천국제판타스틱영화제)