BEDEVILLED UK BluRay review

(A quick explanation: for my viewing of Optimum Home Entertainment's UK release of Bedevilled - available to buy on DVD and BluRay from 28th February 2011 - I've reprinted my earlier review from Manchester's Grimm Up North festival, slightly edited, then added a look at the BluRay disc.)

THE FILM:

Let's be clear: Bedevilled is not a revenge movie. Yes, it deals with a horribly victimised woman who retaliates against her tormentors, seeking catharsis for everything they've put her through, but every synopsis that plays up this angle does the film a disservice. If it were a revenge movie, it'd be I Spit On Your Grave with a soul, far more about missed opportunities and everything else that pushed the characters past the breaking point than the horrifically violent climax that confirms there's no going back.

There are two women, in fact. First is Hae-won, a middle-tier employee at some anonymous financial institution in Seoul, where the stultifying corporate atmosphere has clearly left her teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Take a vacation, her boss orders. So she heads off to Mundo, the tiny islet off the southern coast where she grew up.

Second is Bok-nam, Hae-won's childhood companion, still living on Mundo. While Bok-nam's overjoyed to see her old friend turn up, she's got precious little else to smile about. Mundo turns out to be a backward, insular community populated by emotional cripples rotten to the core, from Bok-nam's violent husband to his retarded brother to the terrible gaggle of old women who persecute Bok-nam for her refusal to grin and bear it.

When Bok-nam inadvertently discovers her situation is even worse than she thought, she begs Hae-won to help her escape - but the plan goes badly wrong, leaving Bok-nam with nowhere left to turn for closure.

Bedevilled is a patient, awful slow-burner of a film, piling psychological stress upon stress as it goes. Hae-won is clearly haunted by more than just the pressures of her job; she shies away from confrontation and tries to bury her feelings. Bok-nam's obviously been thinking about heading for the mainland for some time, and every obstacle laid in her path is another blow to her fragile psyche.

The narrative unfolds at an almost genial pace, with only one major dramatic setpiece before the climax. The two women evidently still care for each other, but there's enough baggage weighing each of them down that repairing their friendship is clearly going to take more than just picking up where they left off.

This is a commercial film, rather than an arthouse production, and some are going to think it's been written far too broadly, even to the point of caricature. Bok-nam's husband Man-jok is every wife-beater ever represented on film rolled into one, and while director Jang Cheol-Soo (a former second stringer for Kim Ki-Duk) is clearly aware of the need for a degree of levity, hearing Bok-nam's mother-in-law - leader of the elderly chorus - come out with lines like 'A woman's only happy with a dick in her mouth' provoke a few too many nervous giggles.

Thankfully, the cast are universally strong to excellent, cartoons or otherwise - Man-jok may be a caricature on paper, but Park Jeong-hak plays him as impressively, frighteningly slippery, shifting from animal appetites to wounded pride in the space of a few seconds. Ji Seong-won as Hae-won struggles to flesh out a character who's more catalyst than actual human being, but she still carries her strongest scenes with quiet, wordless emotion, in particular a fantastic coda.

Seo Young-hee as Bok-nam easily walks away with the film, however, warm then hollow,  tender then devastated by turns. Bedevilled may not be a revenge movie, but it works on much the same level. It isn't about the process of revenge, or the futility or any of the usual themes, but Bok-nam's actions provide the same sense of release. It's not a horror movie, yet it is horrific, partly because of the sheer unbridled level of violence but partly because Jang suggests Bok-nam's revenge represents the right thing to do. The director and his cast manage a phenomenal balancing act, never losing the audience's sympathy but never forgetting how terrifying this butchery is.

It's a gorgeous film, also, unsettlingly beautiful right up until the moment Bok-nam makes her fateful decision, with some wonderfully considered framing and a vibrant, sun-drenched colour palette. The only technical mis-step is a sudden, baffling jump straight into the last scene that feels as if something important was chopped out, but the story still plays out with a tremendously emotive finale and one last scene under the credits fit to reduce all but the most cynical to tears.

THE DISC:

Optimum Home Entertainment's UK BluRay (available to buy from 28th February 2011) gives Bedevilled a fairly bare-bones release, but an attractive one nonetheless. The disc starts straight up, with no forced trailers, and the menus are minimal, but very attractively designed and easy to navigate. The film is divided into twelve chapter stops.

The picture is gorgeous, showing off the cinematography to tremendous effect, clean and well-defined with little visible image enhancement. One thing worth noting is blacks and shadows do sometimes seem very soft, with a loss of definition to the point some night scenes seem overly blurred or obscured, but comparing the disc to the theatrical print this seems to have been at least partly intentional.

The basic 2.0 audio track is perfectly serviceable, crisp and clear. Music and dialogue come across fine, whether during quiet moments, crescendos or peaking. 5.1 DTS is also available. English subtitles are forced, which may annoy some viewers, but they're clear and well-presented, with no visible grammatical or spelling mistakes (they seem largely the same as the theatrical print).

Extras are minimal. There's the original Korean trailer and TV spot, both subtitled in English, which largely just illustrate the fallacy of presenting it as a gruesome revenge thriller (the Korean title roughly translates as A True Account of the Kim Bok-Nam Murder Case). The most substantial is Behind the Scenes, 12 minutes of B-roll footage which is actually fairly interesting - seeing Seo Young-hee act 'normal' ('This sickle looks awfully sharp. You're sure it's rubber?' etc.) is briefly entertaining at the very least.

Bedevilled is neither a revenge movie, nor a horror film, but it appropriates the important parts of both and mines them for heartbreaking, utterly convincing pathos - not to mention nerve-shedding tension - the likes of which most non-genre productions can only dream of. It falls some way short of perfect in its attempts to push the envelope, and fluffs the finale somewhat, but it's still one of the standout films of 2010. Optimum Home Entertainment's UK BluRay is somewhat sparse, but still beautifully presented, and for anyone looking to own the film it comes highly recommended.

(Thanks go to Optimum Home Entertainment for facilitating this review.)
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