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
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
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.