Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bedevilled a Korean 'The Beasts'

 Talk about a film with its heart in the right place! Jesus. This shoots the ducks down and goes back to wring their necks.

If you've never seen Dennis Yu's The Beasts (aka Flesh and Bloody Terror; '80), you may not appreciate the virtues of this Korean sleaze- and blood-fest quite as much as I did. The Beasts, a very rough diamond,  was inspired by flicks such as I Spit On Your Grave, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and Deliverance.

My imdb review went thus:

There's plenty to like in Dennis Yu's vicious little shocker. You can cite many references (Deliverance being one), but my guess is Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes influenced Yu most.

I love stuff like this -- the nastier the better. I'm not apt to whine if the film rolls around in its own filth like a fat, bloated pig. I'm not prone to taking issue with gloriously violent, misogynistic behavior if the only reason given for it is the inherent badness of the characters.

"Entertainment" has many faces, and the face of this putrid piece of vile celluloid is slashed with a shit-eating grin.

In The Hills Have Eyes, Craven used the deformed Michael Berryman as the face of savagery. In The  Beasts, Yu casts an equally disturbing, ugly, toothless actor who grunts and screams and lashes out at every obstacle like a venomous snake. He perfectly embodies Yu's vile little world.

A small party of men and cute women are attacked by some local miscreants ("beasts"). One of the women is brutally raped and the police are called. The miscreants, referred to as "disco boys" by one observer, are rounded up by the inept cops, but the cops fail to make a case against them. A local man, upset that justice has not been served, decides to exact his own -- in deep scarlet.

Although some of the film's scenes of graphic violence are a little sloppy, there are enough cinematic atrocities on parade to forgive Wu his occasional aesthetic misstep.

Again mirroring Hills, two ferocious dogs make an appearance in The Beasts -- this time, however, they're on the side of "evil".

The atmosphere of sleaze and dread is well maintained and encouraged by Yu. The climax, taking place during a vicious rainstorm (at night) is surprisingly effective and beautifully shot by Bob Thompson.

Editing is tight and Tony Au's art direction is vivid and gloriously ugly.

A murder with a rope tossed to a drowning man is a showstopper, as is a scene where a character plunges head first into a box of rusty blades.

If you have a soft spot for this disrespected genre, you'll find a place in your heart for The Beasts.

 While watching Bedevilled (2010) unspool, I was heartened by the fact that someone -- a Korean first-time director named Cheol-soo Jang -- had decided to make a film that, for me, recalled the best aspects of nasty exploitation flicks from Hong Kong's golden age.

Mr. Jang weaves other influences into this potpourri of gory nihilism also. The film's musical choices are pure Kim Ki-duk -- gentle piano pieces suggesting brewing violence. The visuals, which are very impressive, recall the vistas of Ki-duk's The Isle, his purest, most surreal work. One of the film's final images is a direct steal from that film... a woman's body becomes an island.

A little research reveals that Cheol-so Jang was second unit director on Ki-duk's Samaritan Girl. There is a distinct Ki-duk flavor to this film, and the violence (mostly directed at women) is as brutal as that seen in Ki-duk's Address Unknown, Bad Guy, and Crocodile.

Another title that this film bears many similarities to, at least thematically, is Kim Ki-young's quite extraordinary and little seen Leodo ('77), a bewitching tale of an island of mysterious women who harbor a terrible secret.  

 Leodo's focus is on a search for a missing man who lived on the island,  and the influence of a witch-like woman/shaman on the all-female island's residents. The film is so fascinating and multi-layered that I have started, deleted, and re-started numerous blog posts about it over the past couple of months. Until my words can do it some justice, I'll take a powder. Although it (Leodo) has more in common with the original The Wicker Man than Bedevilled,  I can't help suspecting that its theme did influence many aspects of Bedevilled.

The set-up is basic. 'Hae-won' (Seong-won Ji), a frustrated, somewhat selfish businesswoman, travels to the island where she grew up to spend a week with an old friend,  'Kok-nam' (Seo Yeong-hee). Kok-nam is a simple, loving, earthy woman married to a total cunt ( Yeong-hie Seo) who beats her up constantly and screws mainland prostitutes in front of her (the arrival of prostitutes by boat recalls similar scenes in The Isle).

Even worse than any of the above is the not-so-hidden secret that hubby is also screwing his daughter, a shy girl who couldn't be more than nine or ten. His heinous actions are condoned by a nasty old woman (played with chilling conviction) who is her husband's greatest supporter. This old crone virtually encourages the man's abuse and even attempts to cover it up when the worst thing you can possibly imagine happens.

 The island is home to a very small group of women who seem to accept the wholesale mistreatment of the younger woman. They share an old-fashioned view that women are useless without  men and only necessary for procreation and mothering. Although this view is somewhat at odds with the matriarchal society of Leodo, it is presented with similar visual and literary flourishes.

Bedevilled reminded me of The Beasts because its presentation of perversion and violence is just as unrelenting -- although not quite as trashy. Technically, it is a much more polished piece of work.

The brutal husband is just one of several ghastly men the film presents to us. The husband also has a brother who drugs and molests Hae-won, and there is a boat captain and cop who are equally morally bankrupt. Virtually every male in the film is a rotten sod.

Another film presenting all men as animals is Koyu Ohara's White Rose Campus... Then, Everybody Gets Raped!

Because the film is so dedicated to its bleak world view, there is little room for shading. That's fine, though; it is what it is. And director Yang does a good job slowly piling on the atrocities until the victims and audience reach a breaking point.

If I had any problems with the film, it was with the slightly protracted wrap-up that feels a bit rushed. There seemed to be some bridging shots missing that might have smoothed the transition to the last major location.

Bedevilled is a fine achievement, though, another feather in the cap of Korean cinema. Who would have thought that Korea would become the new Hong Kong of the 70's and 80's? Hats off to them! 
The Blu-Ray from Optimum Releasing UK presents the film beautifully.


  1. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 19, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    I knew you wouldn`t publish that com-girl-t, it was to "THE FUTURE" wasn`t it. Morality, hah, dont make me fucking laugh. What is "supposedly" offensive to one generation isn`t to the next and you know as well as i do that that makes a total nonsense of "morality" as an actual concept. The word and its meaning should be completely eradicated from our society, only then will the lies, hypocrisy and sexual repression vanish forever.

  2. jbh -- the "hypocrisy" is this situation is that you want me to place your comment on a forum that my real identity is associated with while you refuse to create your own forum and hide behind a pseudonym. I will only say this once more: This is not a forum for your pro-child sex position. I'm sure there are forums out there for that. Please post to them.

  3. Can't say I wholeheartedly agree with you here. Coincidentally enough, I just watched The Beasts four hours prior to reading this so I found that to be swell. I plan on reviewing The Beasts soon. A friend and admirer of you went on to tell me he thought The Beasts ruled. I told him that I though it was a fun film but then I thought about what he said and I let the phrase "rules" soak it. Pete was right, The Beasts did rule. It may not have been a serious study or anything like that but it hit all the vitals of exploitation and HK trash. Bedevilled on the other hand, I was almost offended.


  4. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 20, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    Its a shame that Ty E and mAQ dont seem to be publishing my Heather O`Rourke related com-girl-ts anymore. Phantom, do you remember a couple of years ago when all my com-girl-ts regarding Heather were published over there (and here for that matter) literally with-in minutes of them being posted, they were truly halcyon, magical and legendary times.

  5. -mAQ -- we agree on THE BEASTS for sure. I'm curious -- what exactly offended you about BEDEVILLED? I enjoyed the depiction of the monstrous men on the island. That's what reminded me of THE BEASTS. Wasn't too keen on the ending, though. I look forward to reading your take on BEDEVILLED.

  6. Recent word of mouth on Bedevilled has been especially enticing and your review has pushed me right over the edge. As an occasional reader of SOILED SINEMA, the fact that it offended him is merely icing.

    The Beasts does indeed rule. Along with KILLER SNAKES and DON'T PLAY WITH FIRE it forms an amazing triumvirate of my favorite mean-spirited HK films.

  7. I haven't always been as enamored with Korean cinema as I felt I have been over the past year. Keep delivering gems like this, I feel like I'm being pandered to personally.

    I'm surprised the island itself didn't feature as largely in your review, Phantom. Just a gorgeous fucking locale, that.

  8. d -- I totally get you're saying... "pandered to personally". That very rarely happens... especially to folks our sensibilities.

    Yes, the island was amazing. It certainly features heavily in my memory. As I said, remidned me a lot of LEODA.