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 Night of the Hunter (1955) – Analysis

The Night of the Hunter is a manic fever dream, and that’s actually what makes the film so interesting. Weird and demented, it is almost hard to believe that the film was released in the 1950’s. With that in mind, it’s even harder to believe that this was British actor Charles Laughton’s first and only directorial film. The plot of the film focuses on a ‘false prophet’ who is, simultaneously, a religious man and a serial killer. At the beginning of the movie, with a trail of dead women in his wake, he puts his sights on a grieving widow and her two children after learning that the former ‘man of the house’ stashed $10,000 somewhere before his passing. Harry Powell, the killer, is willing to find this money by any means necessary. Powell is terrifying for a good chunk of the film, as we are only able to see his silhouette some of the times he is present, most notably on the widow’s children’s bedroom wall. Even as he charms those he comes in contact with, we still get the feeling of for his smarminess. The dominating aesthetic of the movie would have to reside in surrealism. When looking at the structure of the film though, it is definitely less cohesive. The Night of the Hunter seems a bit haphazard with technique, almost as though the director knew he would only make one film and decided to throw all his eggs in one basket.

            The film begins with a bizarre shot in itself, one of hovering disembodied heads tittering against a dark starry backdrop. Followed by aerial footage of the town here the film takes place, and lifelike location exteriors, we see many camera tricks from Laughton’s cinematographer, Stanley Cortez. The more notable tricks being those that showed Powell’s memories of a dancer through what seems to be a keyhole, that, and when Powell confronts the children through the front door of their home and the iris shot reveals them to be watching through the cellar window. This embodies the surrealism that takes hold of most of the tone and atmosphere of the film. Interior scenes, sharp and dramatic, seem almost horror like and almost evoke a sense of fear, whilst the scene where the children escape Powell by river seems to evoke a sense of fantasy and fairy tale due to the backgrounds and stage-like sets. All of these things are purposeful it seems, to instill somewhat of an hazy and impressionistic view upon the viewer. The movies star spectacle though, would have to be the ghastly shot of one of Powell’s victims, tied to the bottom of a car in the belly of the river. This scene is almost humorous, in that we see the victim’s hair, floating like the seaweed in concurrence with a fisherman’s hook floating nearby.

            Scenes like these are what make the film. Whether implemented by Cortez or Laughton, it’s hard to deny the talent that the film puts on display. Especially since the film itself doesn’t need visual cues such as these to reinforce the horror and thrill of what is happening on screen. The third act of the film, takes a sort of turn. The act focuses primarily upon the older Lillian Gish, who supports and takes care of ’exiled’ children. Those children include John and Pearl, the widow’s children, who come to her when their boat comes to break on her shore. Lillian is an actual woman of faith, and not the distorted and chauvinistic kind that Powell displays in the film. This is most particularly apparent when the two opposing forces perform an opposed duet to the tune of “Leaning on Everlasting Arms.” If you want to simplify it even further, Powell is evil, or hate, and Gish is love, or good. The Night of the Hunter uses these strengths as a vehicle to carry the philosophical message of the film, and does so excellently.

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