SciFi Japan

    Review: I SAW THE DEVIL

    Director Kim Jee-woon Delivers Extreme Revenge Flick with Vengeance Author: Richard Pusateri Source: Magnet Releasing Official Movie Site: (US), (Korea) Special Thanks to Marina Bailey Film Publicity SPOILER WARNING: This article contains plot details for a new movie.

    I SAW THE DEVIL (??? ??? , Akmareul Boattda, 2010) has a lot of great buzz and early reviews going for it. The well-acted riveting story has fine photography and great pacing. The momentum carries interest over some implausible situations and other plot holes. But still, I found myself uncomfortable enjoying this slick slasher/serial killer/revenge movie. The action relentlessly escalates as more characters become involved being drawn in (or pulled down) by the obsession of the wronged hero government secret agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun ). I SAW THE DEVIL has plenty of effective suspense and well-staged action scenes. The lush cinematography by Lee Mogae made the well-paced action even more compelling. At times, the lighting made characters seem luminescent or incandescent by nature of their intensity. The music by Mowg complemented the cinematography. In a particularly shocking and grisly but beautiful scene of the victim`s body being discovered, Lee made a deft homage to the striking cinematography of Stanley Cortez in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, a pioneer psycho serial killer film from 1955. Maybe I am getting too sensitive to enjoy slasher movies as entertainment or diversion. I loved PSYCHO as much as the next Hitchcock dilettante and I thoroughly enjoyed NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. I personally don`t really like slasher gore-fest horror movies per se. I did not see many HALLOWEEN-type movies back in that day, nor have I seen anything from the SAW or HOSTEL series, so I might not be the best judge of the current "community standards" for what is acceptable as entertainment in sado/masochistic sexy-slice-and-dice gore fests that earn so much money. This Korean version of Gein-mania uses the psycho-serial-killer-picture as a departure point and proceeds far beyond the psycho-killer-pursuit-road-picture of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The plot evolves into a duel between two experienced combatants each with a formidable arsenal of skills and tactics. Secret agent Soo-hyun appears to be trained in special operations type combat and the evil doer Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) was apparently formerly in some kind of anarchist terrorism group. I SAW THE DEVIL does share many plot points with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Instead of the psycho killer pursuing the protagonist as in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, in I SAW THE DEVIL, secret agent Soo-hyun takes time off from his job at the state security service to hunt for his fiance`s killer as the police are unable to close the case. However the "good guy" loses his righteous status as he quickly goes overboard and throws away all common sense in a death match crusade to torment the maniacal murderer regardless of any consequence.

    Director Kim Jee-woon and writer Park Hoon Jung immediately abandon the mystery category when we see the perpetrator in the first scene. The righteous vigilante genre gets turned on its head as the Good Guy goes bad about an hour in. This rouge secret agent is no Dirty Harry, who kept his own moral compass, nor a DEATH WISH`s Charles Bronson character who had some social responsibility as he cleaned up society by eliminating criminals. Soo-hyun is strictly out for revenge at whatever cost necessary. Traditional elements of crime drama movies are transcended as the authorities become complicit in the secret agent`s crazy crusade. His colleagues and bosses at the security service provide support and cover for him even as the dangerous magnitude of his recklessness become apparent. The secret agent`s father-in-law knows of the extra-legal nature of the quest for revenge, but supports it anyway. The unintended consequences of the protagonist’s reckless actions seem to throw innocent characters into jeopardy. Eventually this viewer was unable to root for or even sympathize with the protagonist, as it seems like he was thoughtlessly willing to let victims die. As the movie unrolls, the authorities are depicted as powerless or complicit and the protagonist truly becomes a monster, and I saw no way for anything positive to develop for any character. I SAW THE DEVIL had some difficulty being released in Korea reportedly for the graphic depictions of violence against innocent young women. The movie went through a few revisions and I am not sure which version I saw. I do not think the violent scenes were unacceptably graphic except for one extremely graphic, sustained beat down near the conclusion.

    Most of the movie followed its own demented internal logic, however one element fell flat for me. There was a McGuffin so obvious at first sight it should have had "©Alfred Hitchcock" in the subtitles. The initial use of this object was a nice homage to STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, even if it was blatant with the camera zooming in to make sure the viewer doesn`t miss the significance. When the object reappears in one of the main plot twists near the climax, I found it totally implausible ("No way, man!") and spoiled the whole plot point for me. I think sometimes reviewers do not like to be fooled by the movies they are reviewing. This movie fooled me into hoping that the evil doer could be cruelly punished outside the legal system by a survivor of his victims. Toward the end, I found myself trying to imagine effective cruel and unusual ways to punish the killer with a lifetime of pain instead of just killing him. Perhaps, that was part of Kim Jee-woon`s intent in making I SAW THE DEVIL, but I did not like that. I SAW THE DEVIL is so effective and well-made that I can recommend it, if you don`t mind having your moral compass re-calibrated by Kim Jee-woon. The movie begins its U.S. theatrical run with screenings in Los Angeles and New York on March 4. Check the official website for local listings.

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