Harrison Wade’s review published on Letterboxd:
I Saw The Devil left a horrible taste in my mouth. If its aim was to entertain, it has only created a perverse entertainment; if its aim was to make the audience uncomfortable, it was too subtle. I have a problem with violence as entertainment. It’s why I’ve started finding Tarantino so unappealing, why Eli Roth has always sickened me. I Saw the Devil falls in with those films, but also fails to deliver interesting characters or a gripping plot, leaving it far from a good film.
The good: Min-sik Choi and Byung-hun Lee as the serial killer (Kyung-chul) and deranged fiancee (Soo-hyeon) play their roles to their max. The fights are well choreographed and coherent, and the photography manages to capture the feeling of horror. But these things can’t support the failures of the movie. The plot is patterned and repetitive, and the story decides to spend far too much time following Choi’s character rather than giving depth to Lee’s.
Revenge films are nothing new. We know that the protagonist will ultimately become as evil as the one that caused them pain, we know that an eye for an eye… etc. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyable and create interesting characters. But I Saw The Devil looses the protagonist far too early in the film. After the first confrontation between the two men, we already see that Soo-hyeon is ready to sacrifice anything and anyone in order to drag out his torture of Kyung-chul. He’s already as bad as the bad guy. But there’s still 105 more minutes of the movie to go, so what do they do?
The film answers by shifting gears to focus on Kyung-chul. It follows his moments of violence and patterned re-capture by Soo-hyeon. This is when the movie uses violence as entertainment. In each scene, the movie graphically draws out Kyung-chul’s violence. Why? We know that he’s capable of it and the movie certainly doesn’t seem to condone the violence since Soo-hyeon ends up exacting even more when he arrives. I found neither of those parts to be enjoyable.
Judging by the popular reaction of excitement that the film received, I doubt that the film was trying to make me uncomfortable with its excessive violence. I guess that’s my own fault. Abduction, rape, murder are serious realities, but I Saw The Devil only wants to use them to entertain. Enjoy it if you can.