I Saw the Devil review

Korean horror films are beginning to become widely known as brutal and disturbing. They are powerful pieces of cinema not to be underestimated and this bloody revenge movie is no exception. A young agent crosses the lines of good and evil as he pursues the vicious and intelligent serial killer who murdered his pregnant wife.

I Saw the Devil is an intense and violent journey into the world and mind of a killer. Along the same lines as films such as Oldboy and The Chaser, this particular story deals in very serious terms of realism. Ideas of the pain and suffering attached with the loss of a loved one and the reality of the dark side of human nature and the lengths one will go to for justice and revenge. The film is brilliantly acted, the roles have been carved to perfection and you are forced to gain feelings for the main characters, good or bad. It also stands out as a highly visual experience, strong on content and beautifully shot. It takes a while to get going but it’s worth it when it does.

I found the film hard to watch at times, and genuinely scary in the sense of frightening moments, but also the very nature of the beast. It makes you realise what a hard and strange world we live in, where it’s not always easy to define the lines of good and bad. I Saw the Devil is definitely a powerful and thought provoking film and should be seen on the biggest screen possible.
SECOND OPINION | David Franklin ??½
Let'sApropos of nothing, have you ever noticed the seemingly endless series of production company/business logos that precedes most Korean films? No? Well I have. They really do seem to be mammoth co-productions. I can’t help but wonder what the executives at the “Korean Export Insurance Corporation” thought when they saw the orgy of sliced tendons, severed arteries and caved-in skulls that is the film they invested in, “I Saw The Devil”.

Directed by Kim Jee-woon, the man behind “The Good, The Bad and The Weird” and the magnificent Korean revenge film “A Bittersweet Life”, “I Saw The Devil” stars Lee Byung-Hun (also of “A Bittersweet Life”, although having seen your DVD collection, you probably know him from “G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra”. Shame on you). Lee plays government agent Kim Soo-hyeon, and in Korean revenge flicks “government agent” is usually shorthand for “more handsome, sharply suited and better at fighting than you or me” (well, you). (It’s come to my attention that I’ve insulted you twice in this paragraph. I’ll make it up to you... over dinner?). When Soo-hyeon’s fiancee is butchered by serial killer/rapist Kyung-chul (Old Boy’s Choi Min-sik), Soo-hyeon takes two weeks leave and proceeds to exact his revenge. But rather than kill him immediately, Soo-hyeon lets the killer go and then tracks him through suburban Seoul, resulting in a series of peaceful meetings where they try to resolve their differences non-violently (I kid: the film’s ferocity escalates with each gory encounter).

Anyone that’s seen “A Bittersweet Life” will testify that Kim Jee-woon knows his way around a camera and an editing suite, and sure enough “I Saw The Devil” is hypnotically well shot. Never boring, though arguably draining, the film features several intensely visceral set pieces, including a frenzied knife attack inside a moving car that’s filmed in one long, swirling camera move. There’s also a strain of inky black humour: at one point a character strains to remove the knife that has pinned his hand to a table, only for the handle to pop off with an amusing squeak, leaving the blade in place. The cast commit to the material fully, particularly Choi Min-Sik who is genuinely unnerving as the most unspeakably sick fuck I’ve seen since I stumbled across your facebook page.

However, far be it from me to wade into the waters of the misogynistic portrayal of women in Asian cinema - oh what the hell *clumsily bellyflops in* - I found this film’s depiction of sadistic violence against women troubling. If I’m going to sit through a lurid and lingering sequence in which a trembling young woman is beaten around the head repeatedly with an iron bar, then it had better be for a good reason; you better be bringing more to the table than that hoary old notion about how exacting revenge on a monster turns the hero into a monster. Some will make the case that there’s a morality in not softening the violence, but I’m not convinced.

Whatever serious intentions the director has are undercut by the silliness of the plot. This isn’t even a story about how revenge can turn you into a monster. It’s a story about how stringing revenge out by putting a tracking chip in the monster’s stomach and then operating a catch, torture and release policy thus allowing said monster to commit further atrocities before you exact revenge... can turn you into a monster: yeah no shit, thanks for giving me a heads up on that one. The cathartic tears of the final shot, coming as it does after a scene involving a death contraption that could have come straight from I Spit On Your Grave or the Saw films, feels, well, pretentious.

So as staggeringly well-made and frequently gripping as this is, I don’t think I can give the director the benefit of the doubt: the man is unquestionably talented, but his film activated the pretentious-misogynist-trash-detector mechanism in my brain.

I Saw the Devil at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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