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March 22, 2016

Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal

by Franz Patrick


Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

After an incident at work which led to her suspension, Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) decides to visit the island where a friend from childhood resides. Bok-nam (Yeong-hie Seo) has been writing to Hae-won for quite some time, requesting for a favor, so she is ecstatic that her friend is staying for a few days. However, life on the island is far from paradise when the visitor learns that Bok-nam is consistently abused, whether it be at work in the fields or at home with her husband.

“Bedevilled,” written by Kwang-young Choi and directed by Cheol-soo Jang, is a slow-burn thriller with real poison behind its fangs. Its violent and gory final third is a very fitting release after the audience sits through multiple of acts of violence against women by men and—surprisingly—other women. Suspense is established because we know that someone is bound to break and so it becomes a matter of waiting for the right button to be pushed.

The island looks beautiful which works as a stark contrast against the ugliness it hides from the rest of Korean mainstream society. Less patient viewers are likely to be bored with the first half considering that these are composed of scenes where a lifestyle is observed. We learn the dynamics of the villagers, how they make money, what they eat, how often a boat stops by just in case somebody needs supplies. We learn, too, about Bok-nam’s plight and the favor she so desperately wishes her friend to accept. She fears not only for her life but also her daughter’s.

Most interesting is the fact that the character we are first introduced to is not necessarily the one worth rooting for. In fact, she is so unkind and so unlikable, she hesitates to tell the police the truth upon witnessing a crime that happens a few feet away from her car. We wonder if something happened to this woman in the past that made her this way. One can make the case that she is a supporting character because once she sets foot on the island, the majority of her time consists of sleeping and missing out on grim turn of events. This is Bok-nam’s story.

The rising action is slow but consistent. Once it reaches the climax, however, we understand that Bok-nam deserves her revenge. The camera has a habit of remaining still during the kills as if it, too, has become detached, catatonic. Still, the film does not turn into a grizzly horror picture where blood, guts, and points of contact are shown, leaving nothing to the imagination. Notice that most of the time sound effects is the only element necessary to get a reaction from us as a weapon rips through skin and flesh.

“Kim Bok-nam salinsageonui jeonmal,” literal translation being “The Whole Story of the Kim Bok-nam Murder Case,” offers a wonderful final shot which perfectly captures the brutality on the island and Hae-won’s role in it. But it also suggests what is to become of the unkind Hae-won. Keep in mind the metaphor and the message proves to be quite compelling.

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