I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil ★★★★★

HoopTober 8: Mosquito Takes Mandragon

Movie 6
1st of 6 Asian horror films

I just wish the Korean movie industry would give more revenge movies a go. 

I'm being facetious, obviously. If their films are anything to go by, the Koreans seem the least likely people in the world to turn the other cheek. Make a note: do not fuck with these guys.

I know folks differ on whether Kim Jee-woon's I Saw the Devil should be considered a horror film or a thriller. I agree that from a plot point of view, it's more of a thriller, but you can't argue that the serial killer content in this is some fucking horrifying shit and definitely proper horror material.

Could this be the ultimate revenge movie? I tend to think of it that way, and not just because of the extreme lengths to which Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) will go to punish the monstrous Kyung-chul (the magnificent Choi Min-sik). In fact, this entire film is an exploration of that old adage about how if you embark on a quest for vengeance, you'd better dig two graves. Or in this case, about a dozen of them because a whole host of people are going to die horribly as Kim's diabolical revenge plot swathes a path of collateral destruction through the community. It's like the irresistible force meeting the immovable evil.

I often bemoan the lack of film-making flair in recent genre films but I should take the opportunity here to clarify that I'm really referring to American cinema. There's certainly been no lack of style in the Korean film scene, and I Saw the Devil is a case in point. The quality of the product on screen is often breathtaking in its beauty, which contrasts sharply with the horrific imagery and material we are being exposed to.

Choi Min-sik's performance as the killer is another iconic performance to sit on his mantelpiece beside his mind-boggling work in Oldboy. The depiction of psychopaths as pure evil is generally a less interesting take on the concept, but in this case it works because he brings a certain groundedness to that evil. It's weirdly believable - it's an evil that manifests as pure misanthropy. He's just like a regular middle-aged dude, just with no sense of mercy or humanity.

Lee Byung-hun is pretty damn strong as the protagonist, Kim. He has this rather unusually pristine-looking face, almost like a porcelain doll. He's improbably handsome, but he can also stay completely expresssionless, which works perfectly for the material.

True to the Korean brand, there's zero sentimentality to this film. It will be shocking to those who are only familiar with western film-making conventions. In this film, if loved ones are in danger, it's not just a motivation to bring our hero into action. It's more likely going to end in their horrible deaths, because the Koreans are more interested in seeing what happens after the protagonist is thrown right off the cliff rather than what he does when he's just pushed to the edge. It can make for a gruelling experience, but it's gut-wrenchingly dramatic.

This is not a film for the faint-hearted, but it's beautiful for all its brutality, and unflinchingly confronts you with real consequence to life or death decisions. You could even pick holes in the plot, especially regarding how Kim even tracks Kyung-chul in the first place (I must admit, I don't get how this tracker works), but it's like a McGuffin. It doesn't matter how he does it, the point is that he does it and what is interesting is what that leads to. It's somewhere I guarantee you've never been before. And you may not ever want to return to.

I do though because I'm a bloodthirsty bugger - LOL

mosquitodragon liked these reviews