The Film: I Saw the Devil (Buy it from CHUD!)
The Principles: Kim Ji-woon (director), Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Jeon Kuk-hwan, Cheon Ho-jin, Oh San-ha, Kim Yun-seo, Choi Moo-sung, Kim In-seo
The Premise: Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is a depraved serial killer who happens upon unsuspecting Joo-yun (Oh San-ha) one snowy night. He brutally murders her and dismembers her corpse as, we suspect, he’s done many times before. But this is a killing like none other, as we come to learn that Joo-yun’s husband Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is a secret agent with every intention of making Kyung-chul pay for his heinous crimes. Over and over and over again.
Is It Good: I got hard just writing that premise. I Saw the Devil is the most engaging revenge film I’ve seen in ages, one that’s stayed with me in the three months since I first saw it.
Electrifying, frenzied and altogether brutal in it’s willingness to destroy, it’s the emotional deconstruction of two men who can’t stop. Two men motivated to see their compulsions through to their heartbreaking conclusions.
Kyung-chul is a homicidal monster, driven to act out his sick and twisted fantasies on innocent victims. Soo-hyun, though noble, is equally possessed by the memory of his dead wife. Maiming Kyung-chul over and over, he’s living and reliving a revenge fantasy he cannot yet see past. For every chunk of flesh he rips from Kyung-chul, he loses a piece of himself in the process – leading to an final agonizing showdown between two very unhinged men.
Is It Worth A Look: It’s not for everyone, at 144 minutes the running time is going to be a touch too long for some. But top to bottom, this is a great film. It’s worth seeing for cinematographer Lee Mo-gae’s stunning shot composition alone. Typical of modern Korean fare, the sadism is framed in such a way as to be almost picturesque. The first snowy scene is hauntingly beautiful, and it only gets better from there.
The work of the two stars here is superb. Choi Min-sik’s Kyung-chul is a maniac, but one you’ll find yourself warming to as the film progresses. He’s a disturbing character in that, if he weren’t such a homicidal douche, you might feel a touch sympathetic for him.
I Saw the Devil is like the best kind of steak: meaty, bloody and a touch too rare.
Random Anecdotes: Choi Min-sik is going to be a familiar name to some, as he was Oh Dae-su in 2003’s excellent Oldboy, a film that helped put Korean cinema on the map.
Cinematic Soulmates: Oldboy, Kill Bill, Mother, Sympathy for Lady Vengence, The Vanishing