Paul Lister’s review published on Letterboxd:
I feel dirty when I watch this film, partly because of the awful violence towards women and partly because I really fucking love this tale of two psychos! Make no mistake, Choi Min-Sik and Lee Byung-Hun are both psychotic, Min-Sik may be the more deplorable of the two but Byung-Hun has no problems unleashing his inner nut job. The great thing about the film is the way in which asks, how much of a lunatic do you have to be to go toe to toe with a lunatic? Judging by how much I love this film, I would say, hell yes!
Lets start by calling out Min-Sik's sickening portrayal of a serial killer who thinks he's the most sane person in the film, as a master stroke. I simply revels in the role, which is disturbing in itself really! In Old Boy he played the put upon hero, imprisoned for seemingly no reason, desperate to enact revenge and seek answers. We could quickly identify with him. In this film he is just a totally despicable person, completely unidentifiable, yet his screen presence is so magnetic, the small character inflictions he provides, the way he combs his hair, puts on aftershave and plays guitar after killing another girl makes my cringe so much and shows how much he takes pleasure in killing his victims. Or could it just be that women make him sick and the idea of touching them makes him feel dirty? Another great side to his character is the sense of outrage he has with other characters, the sense that everyone is a psycho but him. The idea makes sense, psychotic people often feel like they are sane.
One of the moments that see's him label others as crazy is a scene in a cab, a glorious moment when he realises the men in the cab are almost like his kinsman, deplorable killers just like him, he dispatches the two men, in a gloriously blood soaked stabbing tirade before finding the dead body in the back, then labelling them, "crazy bastards". This whole concept would later be expanded upon when Min-Sik seeks refuge in a psycho's house. He's just shit out of luck!!
His first confrontation with Byung-Hun outs him for the sicko he is, which seems to free him up to be slimy and awful in broad daylight, following the cab scene Min-Sik finds a hospital to get repaired before locking himself in a room with a nurse, ready to do his business. What he doesn't bet on though is that he is now in a duel, a cat and mouse game with Byung-Hun. The game is on!
So turning my attentions to Byung-Hun, he is supposed to be the protagonist in the film, a man seeking revenge for the murder of his soon to be pregnant wife. As the film goes on though his decent into the darkside, as he enacts multiple flurries of violence toward Min-Sik call in to question his 'good guy' role. Byung-Hun plays the role terrifically well though, first showing the grief and anger at his wife to be's death before seemingly turning a switch in his brain and turning into a dead eyed robot, almost Terminator like. He show's enough moments of doubt through out to suggest he isn't quite capable of killing his man though, particularly when he passes up the chance to kill him out right to begin with, instead opting to go the sadistic route, put him through as much torture as possible.
The movie is basically insane, you have the cat and mouse element, multiple gruesome murders of women, sick acts of sadistic violence, more psycho killers than a Talking Heads song and a wonderfully black sense of humour. The performance are terrific as I have mentioned and the set pieces are brutal and blood soaked, there is an element of torture porn in the film though but the black humour works in it's favour, it isn't a joyless empty slog like Hostel or any of those types of film, it may certainly revel in it's depravity a bit too much sometimes but the joy of Min-Sik coming across so many mentally deranged people is so blackly humorous, like he has a magnet for madness and psychos, his acts even inspire psychosis in others!
It's Byung-Hun that provides the ultimate sick act, a final good bye to Min-Sik's character, finding an inventive way of having his family be complicit in his downfall, knowing that they will walk in and see his dismembered head. It also acts as a final cathartic moment.
It is safe to that I Saw The Devil is a little too long, a little to drawn into it's game of cat and mouse perhaps, one too many scenes of torture. It doesn't really bother me, they are delivered with so much glee I'm more than happy to see Byung-Hun and Min-Sik go at each other hammer and tongues for over 2 hours and I'll do it again damn it, but I'll always take a shower, comb my hair and rub the aftershave in deep once it's all over!