For sophisticated Seoul bank assistant Hae-won (Ji Seong-won), she doesn't like anything in her life which will disrupt the status quo, and doesn't wish to think about those less advantaged than herself if it means contemplating anything outside her neat sphere of modern existence. That also means that when she witnesses a woman being beaten up in the street and is called in by the police to help with their case against three young thugs, she visibly dithers and refuses to commit to identifying them, not least because she is afraid when they confront her in the car park afterwards and warn her off...
But Bedevilled wasn't going to turn into an urban revenge thriller as it might have appeared from the opening ten minutes or so, as it instead took the path to rural drama, then thriller, then outright horror as events come to a head. Hae-won is so tightly wound that when she gets into trouble at work, her boss pointedly suggests she take a vacation while the company decides what to do with her; you could observe she was stressed, but director Jang Chul-soo (making his feature debut after serving as assistant director in Kim Ki-duk movies) wasn't going to let her off the hook as easily as that, and we have to work to find much sympathetic about her.
The whole objective of the film might have been to teach her a lesson, but it was more blatantly to alert South Korean society and other communities like those it depicted across the globe that there was a culture of exploitation going on, and the ones being exploited were women. Rather than a patronising "on your side, sisters" moral lesson, Jang opted to show rather than tell of his concerns, and often in the most harrowing fashion possible. When Hae-won decides to return for her break to the isolated island of Moo-do where she was brought up, she has no idea what she is letting herself in for, specifically in regard to her childhood friend Kim Bok-nam (Seo Yeong-hie) whose letters she has been ignoring for a while now.
Quite why she recalled this place as a rural idyll when it's patently the opposite is never really explained, but more important than that is what it's like now for Bok-nam, and her delight at seeing her old pal again doesn't mask the torment she is enduring at the hands of the others on the island. She is determined to do right by her ten-year-old daughter, but her husband, Man-jong (Park Jeong-hak), is so obviously a terrible person who is planning to abuse the girl is merely the tip of a very nasty iceberg, exposing the corrupt heart of the country folk at odds with the prettiness of the surroundings. The social issues were definitely there to be mused over, but also vital to the plot because when all hell broke loose we had to understand why.
Jang was illustrating that while this wasn't based on a true story, the emotions were very much authentic: essentially, the victimised will either internalise or externalise their abuse and in Bok-nam's case both as she suffers daily indignities (used as a slave, either for labour or sex) as if she thinks she deserves it, until a tragedy occurs which makes her snap, realising she has done too little too late to right the wrongs committed against her and her daughter and therefore bringing down a bloodthirsty wrath upon those who pushed her too far. Seo won a brace of awards for her performance, and it's not difficult to see why as she invites pity for her character, pathetically glad to see a friendly face who she wants to be taken back to Seoul with only for even Hae-won to betray her, leaving Bok-nam thereafter an object of fear and deliverer of violence. If there was anything to take away from Bedevilled, it was not to tolerate such vile behaviour that breeds vengeance or worse: Jang took it to an anguished extreme, far from easy to watch, but his point was vividly portrayed. Music by Kim Tae-seong.