At first glance it may be difficult to make the connection between Yim Pil-sung's dark fantasy, Hansel & Gretel
and Jang Cheol-soo's visceral revenge thriller Bedevilled
, but a little digging beyond the surface shows that they both stem from the same rotten place, the family. These two films, and many if not most Korean thrillers and horror films exploit the facade of family as a wholesome thing. They tear down those most comforting walls, the ones which keep you safe inside your home with your family, and instead use those same walls to trap their protagonists in increasingly hostile circumstances. This theme is by now means limited to these two films, however, in watching them one after the other, the similarities began to jump out in a I didn't expect, even having seen both previously.
Hansel & Gretel
is a tale of a young man who is thrown from his car in a collision and happens upon the "Home for Happy Children" in the middle of the woods while seeking help. What follows is an increasingly tense feature length story that is more than a little reminiscent of the "It's a Good Life
" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie
in which Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinlan) ends up at a house ruled by the wishes of its children. This is the rare case in which a Korean film's runtime helps it, because if this film weren't allowed to spread out and add depth to its story, it would be little more than a shadow, or even rip-off of the more popular film. However, the added detail and back story create an emotional connection that is unique to this film, and something that "It's a Good Life
" didn't have.This next piece will probably constitute a spoiler, reader, be advised:
The trio of children in Hansel & Gretel, led by the eldest brother Man-bok, live in a world of their own creation. They have created a cycle of self-renewal in which they draw in adults to play parents and feed the siblings every whim. Dessert for breakfast, Christmas every day; the routine is predictable and predictably immature, but it keeps them perpetually happy, which is what they feel that they deserve after the hell that they've survived. Of the three children, Man-bok and his sisters, it is Man-bok who wields the power of telekinesis and manifestation, what he wishes comes true. He only learned of his power through great adversity, living in the "Home for Happy Children", which was actually an orphanage/gulag in which abandoned children were left to languish and die, he saw more than his fair share of suffering for sure.
The man who ran this fleapit used the children for his own personal gain. The only thing keeping him from killing them outright was the fact that he held them in such low regard that it would be too much of a chore. This man, the only father this trio of children has ever known, has instilled in them such a loathing not only of adults but of the false family structure he provided, that they prey upon unlucky travelers in the woods to serve as surrogate parents. As much as they like to imagine that these unfortunates are there to take care of them, the children ultimately know that they've created a world which can sustain them, but only them, and turns their victims to sniveling heaps. It is only through the superhuman effort of their latest victim, Eun-soo, that they find salvation, and not without trails.
also deals with broken families, absent fathers, abusive parental figures, and gruesome revenge, but in a very different way. When Hae-won decides to go on holiday to the remote island of Moo-do to visit a childhood friend, she has no idea of the incestual brutality that awaits her and everyone in her path. We are led to believe that Hae-won is our protagonist, however, it becomes clear very quickly that it is her childhood friend, Bok-nam, who is the focus of this film.
Bok-nam is a shell of a human being, repeatedly abused and raped by her husband, insulted and degraded by her grandmother, and her suffering ignored by everyone around her, Bok-nam is a seething pot of rage. She holds it all in quite nicely at first, complimenting Hae-won on her milky white skin, bragging on her own beautiful little girl, and excitedly trying to recapture her own halcyon days with this old friend in a vain attempt to transport herself out of her misery. There is no such respite from the storm brewing on Moo-do island, however, and Bok-nam is grasping at straws and she knows it.
Physically beaten and psychologically abused by her husband, the man who attempts to play Daddy to her illegitimate child, Bok-nam is barely human. However, the one thing that keeps her from completely losing her mind is her beautiful daughter, Yeon-hee. As hard as Bok-nam tries to shelter Yeon-hee from the daily living hell she endures, one of the films most heartbreaking moments comes when this desperate mother attempts to whisk Yeon-hee away from the island. When Yeon-hee's precious angelic voice protests momentarily, Bok-nam freezes and attempts to quickly evaluate the damage she could do by removing her daughter from the only life she knows, however, when Yeon-hee asks if her Mommy will keep being beaten by her Daddy if they stay, Bok-nam knows the time has come. There is no more shelter, there is no bubble small enough to remove Yeon-hee from harm.
A caution for the spoiler averse: don't keep reading.
What thin shreds of sanity Bok-nam's sanity still exist do so only to protect her daughter. When that motivation is lost and her daughter is no longer the only barrier to bloody revenge, Bok-nam does the only reasonable thing. She kills EVERYONE. This is family. This is the deepest bond that we, as humans, know. No one can hurt you like the ones you love, and who are supposed to love you back. The terror that Bok-nam endures, even during the minute slice of her life that we see over the course of the film, is brutal and unrelenting, to the point that even when her husband hires his usual whore and pounds away violently and loudly in the next room, the only thing that Bok-nam feels is relief. For once, it's not her being punished.
These two films, and many others, share this common thematic thread. There is no more ardent support, nor more potent enemy than family. No one can wound you so deeply as the ones you trust with your happiness, and when they fail to hold up their end of the bargain, all bets are off. Both of these films are well worth checking out, and now that they both exist on Blu-ray for both North American and European standards, there's no reason not to pick them up.
Of the two, it is Bedevilled
that sports the more impressive A/V presentation. Hansel & Gretel
is a candy colored nightmare, but as brilliant as the colors are on this disc, the image seems at times a tad over-sharpened, which can be distracting. At other times the image seems to lose fine details like hairs and skin texture. It's not bad, per se, but it's not exactly reference material. Most of the time it look wonderful, but from time to time is can be a wee bit distracting if you look closely enough. Bedevilled
, on the other hand, is another picture perfect transfer from Well Go. The film is somewhat washed out, but it seems more like a stylistic choice than anything else. The colors seem muted, but the detail is excellent, and there are no signs of digital funny business. Both scores are excellent, and I have no complaints with the audio tracks.
On the other hand, when it comes to extras, Hansel & Gretel
easily runs away with the prize. The film not only has a 55-minute making of segment, but it also features interviews with key cast and crew members, as well as words of encouragement from other directors about the film's ambitious reach and wonderful outcome. All told, there is nearly two hours of bonus material on the disc, all of which is interesting and engaging, as one would expect from a film like this. Bedevilled
comes only with a US trailer (which is admittedly pretty cool) and a 15 minute reel of behind the scenes footage, mostly notable for lots of footage of the make-ups and gore effects being prepared. What there is isn't bad, there's just not much there.
Both of these films are amazing, both come highly recommended.Hansel & Gretel
is presented on ALL REGION Blu-ray from Terracotta Distribution in the UK and Bedevilled
is Region A compatible from Well Go USA.