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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Cha Hae-joon (차해준) faces off against the monster

Sector 7 (7광구) – ★☆☆☆☆

Sector 7 (7광구)

Sector 7 (7광구)

When Sector 7 (7광구) was announced, it came with a wave of anticipation. It had a blockbuster story that resembled Hollywood fare, guaranteeing a foreign market; it had assembled some of the most popular actors in the country, including hot property Ha Ji-won (하지원) also known as ‘the Korean Angelina Jolie’; and it was to be filmed in 3D, insinuating the high level of confidence film executives had in the project.

The story, about workers on an oil rig that come face to face with a monster, had more than a few similarities with Ridley Scott’s classic Alien (1979) and had cinephiles wondering if it could compete in Hollywood and reignite international attention in Korean cinema. To be fair, the expectations were so ridiculously high that any film would have fallen short. But no-one was prepared for just how far short, and how awful, Sector 7 truly is.

On an isolated oil rig off the coast of Jeju Island, the crew are experiencing difficulties as there is no oil to be found. The supervisor (Park Jeong-hak (박정학), wants to abandon the search but is repeatedly challenged by team member Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won (하지원) for his cowardice. That is, until senior official Jeong-man (Ahn Seong-gi (안성기) returns to the rig and demands the search continues until an oil well is found; yet once their objective has been achieved, members of the crew are found dead. As the crew attempt to find the murderer, the come face-to-face with a monster from the depths of the ocean.

Cha Hae-joon (차해준, Ha Ji-won (하지원) searches for the unseen killer

Cha Hae-joon (Ha Ji-won) searches for the unseen killer

The narrative itself is not an inherently bad premise, yet director Kim Ji-hoon (김지훈) continually pushes audiences’ suspension of disbelief well beyond their limits. For example, motorcycle drag racing on an oil rig appears to be a commonplace activity on this particular rig, as does the bizarre mixture of futuristic and archaic technology within it. The absurdity is not helped by the use of terrible CGI and green screen that seriously detracts an sense of logic to the proceedings. The worst is saved for the monster itself, an unbelievably poor creation that appears like a reject from a Final Fantasy video game. The monster has supposedly been forcefully evolved from a smaller creature yet bares no resemblance to it whatsoever, and exhibits an entirely different set of abilities. Luckily most scenes involving the creature are at night and in shadows, yet even then the lackluster design, movement, skin texture and so on are obviously apparent. This is all the more baffling when considering Bong Joon-ho‘s incredible monster film The Host was made 5 years earlier.

The crew must fight to survive the new menace

The crew must fight to survive the new menace

The actors portraying the tyrannized protagonists are also unimpressive, although they cannot be held fully accountable as the dialogue is woeful. Ha Ji-won is usually an actress that guarantees quality, yet even she provides an under-par performance as she schizophrenically flits from cute airhead to hardened independent woman. Her love interest played by Oh Ji-ho (as Kim Dong-soo (김동수) is so under-represented that he hardly warrants being in the film, let alone providing adequate interest as the source of her affections. Duo Park Cheol-min (박철민) and Song Sae-byeok (송새벽) are intended to add comedy to the mix however become so irritating that it’s something of a relief when they meet their demise. Park Cheol-min in particular shouts his way through his dialogue, while his compatriot merely whines. The less said about Park Yeong-soo’s (박영수) mentally ill crew member Jang Chi-soon the better. Only Ahn Seong-gi as senior crew member Jeong-man conveys credibility through his quiet-albeit-authoritative tones, yet he too succumbs to the oddities in the narrative when his supposedly true nature is revealed.

Cha Hae-joon (차해준) faces off against the monster

Cha Hae-joon faces off against the monster

Verdict:

Sector 7 is not a complete disaster, as director Kim Ji-hoon competently composes scenes and keeps the action moving at a swift pace. Apart from the awful CGI it’s clear that Sector 7 has a large budget which has been well spent on creating the mise-en-scene of an oil rig. It’s a shame that so many negative features outweigh the few scant positives, rendering a potential blockbuster into a substandard film well below the talents of all involved.

★☆☆☆☆

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