With his debut feature Bedevilled out on DVD this week, the South Korean director reveals his greatest creative inspirations.
After working as assistant director to Kim Ki-duk on Samaritan Girl, Yang Chul-soo enjoys his own directorial debut with Bedevilled. By turns poignant, grotesque, blackly funny and horrifying, this is an artful, slow-burning revenge drama set on the fictional island of Moodo, where acts of human depravity unfold on a stage of immense natural beauty.
Here, two women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (played by Ji Sung-won and Seo Yung-hee) will, once reunited, reprise scenarios of guilt, repression, despair and madness from their childhood, as both try to escape the different burdens of their past. Yang explains to LWLies how he sees his impressive feature as a melodrama – with a touch of Psycho...
LWLies: Bedevilled screened at last year's FrightFest – but while the film contains elements of horror, it also seems to be a character drama, a psychological thriller, a revenger's tragedy, and a schizophrenic love story. What type of film did you feel that you were making?
Yang: There are various genres in cinema, but I consider them largely to be either comedy or melodrama. In that sense, I see my film as a melodrama. Everything in the film happens because of the characters' emotions for one another. And when melodrama meets extreme circumstances, the result can be something like in my film.
You have coaxed some very intense performances from your two female leads (Ji Sung-won and Seo Yung-hee), but arguably the film's third principal role is played by the island location itself, a place that combines idyllic beauty with horrific human depravity. How did you find your (presumably fictional) island of Moo-do? And are there really still places in South Korea where life is like that?
There are roughly 3,000 islands in Korea, but I wanted to find the perfect location for the film even if it meant that I would have to visit every single island. But some of the really small ones didn’t have any boats going in so I couldn’t visit them all. Then I heard about a Christian minister who actually been to all of them nationwide twice, so we asked for his help. We explained to him about my film and its setting and found the place among the several islands that he had recommended. The looks of the island are what I had actually seen in my childhood twenty, thirty years ago. But Korean audiences will not look at the film as a story from the past – because, despite the outward changes, those disgraceful figures still exist.
Your island is a character both tangibly physical and suggestively metaphorical. Could you say something about the island's symbolism in a film whose two main characters are both, in their different ways, leading extremely insulated lives?
The film shows that people lead similar lives whether they live in completely different places, the countryside or the city. Moreover, human existence on the island in the film is terminated in the end, which metaphorically shows the tragic end of a society. The countryside where Bok-nam lives is a mix of the past and present whereas the city where Hae-won lives is a mix of present and future. And within the location where all times are mixed, Bok-nam and Hae-won metaphorically play the victim, assailant, and bystander.
You have worked as assistant director to Kim Ki-duk on Samaritan Girl. Has your own filmmaking been in any way influenced by Kim Ki-duk's? For example, in the final sequence of Bedevilled, was the irrational confusion of geographical space and the female form influenced by the ending of Kim Ki-duk's The Isle?
It would be a lie to say that my filmmaking had not been influenced by Kim Ki-duk. The biggest influence that I had was how Kim Ki-duk created his films and his survival instincts. If I may compare myself to him, Kim Ki-duk is one who shows that there is a shadow in the light, whereas I show the light in the shadows. The ending of the film was not meant to be an homage to his film. I saw an island that looked like the female form and wrote the script in a way after thinking that woman’s life is like an island. But I’m pleasantly surprised and happy that the ending reminds people of his film. It was actually that particular film that made me seek him ten years ago in the first place.
Similarly, your depiction of two women in crisis, with their fates so tightly intertwined, reminded me of Kim Ji-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters. Was this deliberate? And what other films do you count as influences on Bedevilled?
I had not thought of any relations with A Tale of Two Sisters. But since the original folklore is quite well-known, perhaps it is embedded in the Korean people’s subconscious minds. There are just too many films that had influenced me such as Purple Noon, Mystic River, No Country for Old Men, Psycho, etc.
It struck us watching Bedevilled that Hae-won may in fact never leave her Seoul apartment, and that all the film's Moo-do Island sequences may in fact unfold in her beer-soaked head, as a guilt-tinged reverie on the childhood experiences that have haunted (and defined) her ever since. Did you intend your film to be open to this sort of 'Lynchian' interpretation? Or is this just wild fancy on my part?
It had actually crossed my mind. Although it would make the film look more brilliant, I didn’t want to use it believing that it would actually drop the level of weight for the social message that I wanted to convey. The original ending that I had come up with was of Hae-won in an interrogation room being questioned for the mass murders of the village's entire populace. Hae-won keeps denying the charges, and insists that Bok-nam was the killer. But the police tell her that Bok-nam doesn't exist, that she was a girl killed in a sexual assault by the village boys 15 years ago. And that Bok-nam in the film did not exist, that she was a phantom created by Hae-won’s guilty mind.
Can you talk about your next project?
I’m working on the script for my next film which will be about the deserted Korean peninsula after a nuclear war between North and South Korea, with a female lead. I can’t say when it will be made since the financing and casting is not complete, but I’m aiming to shoot the film this summer.
Bedevilled is released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 28 courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment.