I Saw the Devil (2010) – Review

In I Saw the Devil, Kim Jee-woon articulates a bloodlust that is nauseating and fascinating compared to the normal torture porn we see today. If I had been eating during my viewing, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold down anything that I had just ingested. I knew the movie was going to be graphic and push my limits from other’s appraisal for the film, but I didn’t know how far until now.

Secret agent Dae-hoon is grieving over the loss of his fiancée, after she has been murdered by a psychopathic serial killer. Assisted by his father-in-law, who also is luckily the chief of police, Dae-hoon goes on a revengeful journey to make her killer suffer and realize how much pain he has caused him and her family. Oddly enough, the film isn’t just a chasing down of the killer, Kyung-chul, as much as it is a game of cat and mouse that Dae-hoon is playing with him. He hunts him down and punishes him several times throughout, each time being more brutalizing and tormenting than the last.

Now I know I said I had heard about this film, but I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was getting into. All I knew is that this was a revenge film with lots of blood and guts, and that in itself garnered my attention. The film also took my attention hostage, almost immediately. I mean, this is a film that you watch through it’s entirety and almost forget that it is 2 ½ hours long on account of the plot just being force-fed down your throat from the opening scene to the finale. A lot of the scenes will make you wince, there are mutilations, decapitations, rapes, and even cannibalism. Fortunately for me, I don’t think I will ever forget some of the scenes in this film, and I find it odd that Korean films tend to push my limits this much farther than their American counterparts.

Now, I have to be honest. Some of the things that we see in this film, are things we have seen before. This isn’t going to make you vomit from realism because you know it’s not real since you’ve seen it in other films. That being said, I Saw the Devil doesn’t shy at all from showing the results of its madness. Blood is filled in every nook and cranny of the film, and if something you see on screen is a result of something being hurt, just know that you will be able to see that hurt. It’s almost surreal in it’s cinematography, but I think that adds to the charm. The surrealism and hyper-reality that’s depicted allow us to suspend disbelief whilst also knowing that what we are watching is probably pretty similar to what would happen in real life. One scene that comes to mind is the taxi scene with Kyung-chul, stabbing attempted-robbers repeatedly whilst the camera spins around them to showcase the morbidity taking place in the vehicle. Although it is disorienting, the film does an excellent job of showcasing the horror and making you want to watch out of sheer curiosity.

We have seen revenge films. Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, etc. That being said, the way this movie goes about taking revenge is more original than your typical revenge/thriller/horror. It’s a journey of character, and even their onscreen counterparts reiterate this. We watch two people start off completely different and end up on in the same. Our characters, the main two, are stalwarts in their lives, and when they cross paths it becomes obvious that neither of them is going to budge. They keep brawling, even though both of them, namely Kyung-chul, suffers injuries that would make a normal person pussy-out and hobble home, calling their mom to come and swaddle them. It’s a testament to will and perseverance, the power of evil and vengeance, and how much we want to see our most grandiose fantasies play out. Moral lines become blurred, emotions become one, and on the whole, we have a hard time swallowing the reality of the situation.

The only problem I encountered through the film, was timing, in a way. It almost seems as if a few scenes are a tad too long, and that other scenes are too short. I think that there are some portions of the film that are utterly pointeless, but that is not to say that they are bad, it’s just thinking about them in retrospect caused me to think about the purpose the scene served to the overall impending message and deliverance of the film. Not to call the film pompous or over-indulgent, as I don’t think he means it or it comes off as such, but there is definitely a story within this one that is more precise than the one we are handed at a 140-minute mark. The gripe is that a well-polished film can come across as sloppier than the gem hiding within it.

The performances are spectacular, especially the role of Kyung-chul. Oldboy is one of my introductions to ‘Korean horror’, though I guess we could say that it is more of a revenge film itself. It was interesting to see Min-sik Choi play the perpetrator in this film after I saw him play the innocent in Oldboy. Nevertheless, I thought his performance was absolutely stunning and the way he convinced me that he was a bloodthirsty killer who will bow to no one is unmatched. I think his counterpart, Byung-Hun Lee, also did a fantastic job as Kim Soo-hyeon. With what little we know about his character, I’m thoroughly impressed by how he portrayed the character on film. We also want revenge for him and almost relate, though I myself have never been put in a situation that could’ve garnered such hate and ferocity. Their transformations, magnetism, and intensity is a force to be reckoned with, and I admire them for that.

This movie is a revenge-thriller. A good one. I highly suggest watching this film if you’re into ankle-slashing and cannibalism. If you aren’t in the mood to watch someone dig through their own feces or get a screwdriver shoved through their cheek, I’d sit this one out.



The Art of Horror Comedy

Genres. We know the main ones: comedy, drama, horror, romance, science fiction, western, musical, action, adventure, etc. We know that genre is a term applied usually to some sort of personalities or tropes found in films that make them easily identifiable when categorizing movies. Without them, it would be almost impossible to locate films similar to one another and we would never actually know what we are getting into. That being said, genre can be flexible. Filmmakers can use the expectancies we enforce on genres to shock us. Shifting from one to another, or taking aspects from different genres altogether, genre can become fluid in the eyes of filmmakers and watchers alike. Most often, we see elements of a particular genre combined with the comedic genre; this is apparent in: romantic comedies, action comedies, musical comedies, and, my favorite, horror comedy.

            Horror comedy, by nature, seems off. In theory, both genres are purposed to illicit entirely different emotions from a person. Comedy makes us laugh, happy, and filled with joy. Horror, on the other hand, plays with our fears, scares us, and most importantly, creates disruption and stress in our life. These two genres also give us some of the two most visceral reactions found in genres. When successful, we are either uncontrollably laughing, or fear-stricken. Though they are different, comedy and horror both affect us on a base level. Joyous. Fearful. These are two of our most human qualities in life. It is also the qualities that set these two genres apart from others. So what happens, when we blur the lines between these two genres?

            One of the most popular ways to weave these two genres together is to put a comedic character in a terror-filled situation. We see this pretty early on, with films such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), their other ‘Universal Monster’ counterparts, and the duo’s first horror comedy Hold That Ghost (1941).  The two actors provide comedic relief, and the horror elements of the film are almost secondary to the comedic genre. We see the trend continue into films of today as well, with films such as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Eli Craig’s Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil (2010). The film is almost just one genre, and horror just seems to be a set piece or segway to more comedic elements.

We also have what is known as the “meta” approach to horror comedy. This is where the comedy isn’t as outright, with comedic elements coming to fruition from recognition of horror tropes and qualities predictably found within the genre. These films have been increasingly prevalent since the 1990’s, with Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) and New Nightmare (1994), as well as Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in The Woods (2011). In both of these methods, comedic characters and comedic Meta, we normally find quite a balance. The movie will give us a horror scene, as well as a comedic one, and typically allow for the film to be considered what we refer to as a “horror comedy”. There is another approach though, and this is evident in the films that Sam Raimi has made, originating with Evil Dead II (1987).

            There is nothing in particular that makes these movies comedic, and on paper, they should be deemed to be ‘classic horror’. In Raimi’s films, and films inspired by his work, the scary parts are also the funny parts. The scenes that make some people’s blood curdle; make other’s burst with laughter. The characters aren’t necessarily comic relief, and the situations in which they find themselves in aren’t either. We get something similar to comedic films though, and that’s the set-up and payoff. In comedies, we get a joke set-up, and we see how it plays out on screen. In Raimi’s films, we see a suspenseful situation, payoff with a scare. Instead of separating the two into scary parts, and funny parts, they become interlaced and as a result, are the same thing. Oddly enough, the first Evil Dead (1981) doesn’t follow this route. The film is a straight-up horror film and takes itself quite genuinely. The sequel on the other hand, while almost indistinguishable, finds a way to tilt itself into the absurd and allow for a horror to become a comedy without spoon-feeding you jokes or things of the sort. The key thing in this situation would be the nature of the film.

            The stage is set by exaggeration. Dialogue. Cinematography. Effects. Sound. All are made almost extreme, and allow for a movie that is obviously horror, to tip into the comedic realm. Once the tone is set, Raimi can use things like sound and camera movements to evoke comedic elements in a film that in theory is horror. One example, which I can think of, is the excessive amounts of gore and gross-outs that Raimi will use. The blood we see on film can be in absurd otherworldly proportions, and that, in unrealism, is comedic. There is also intense melodrama, such as when characters share heartfelt moments in nonsense situations that bring out comedic elements in a horror film. Maggots. Decapitations. Disembowelments. All of these can be comedic if the correct tonal approach is taken to creating and crafting the scene.

            This is the art of the Raimi film. Creating a movie that can evoke multiple emotions at once, tickling our brains, and puts us in a place that we are unsure of what is to come next, and in that non-predictableness allow ourselves to see the absurdity and laugh at it in these extreme situations. Fights can be gut wrenching, jaw dropping, and belly crushing. Oddly enough, most movies require a familiar tone throughout to be successful, both critically and commercially. This is evident with most films that we consider to be some of the universally accepted ‘greatest’ of all time. Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) maintains a serious and dramatic tone throughout, never flinching and allowing the viewer to become invested in what the movie has to say. It’s fascinating how Raimi can take the exact opposite approach and still achieve similar results. His inability to stay in a singular space makes his films more creative, intuitive, and gripping. For this reason, I think it’s important that we recognize what horror comedy is as a genre, and its importance to the evolution of horror as a whole.

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