“EVIL LIVES INSIDE.”
Category: Crime/Noir, Thriller
Directed by: Kim Ji-woon
Written by: Park Hoon-jung
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Lee Byung-hun
Cinematography: Lee Mo-gae
I Saw the Devil is a violent revenge film from prominent South Korean film director Kim Jee-woon. The story follows NIS agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun, Joint Security Area) who goes on a mission to avenge the rape and murder of his wife at the hands of serial killer Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy), becoming just as violent and dispassionate as the man he hunts down. Despite how grisly and gory the film is, it shows through Soo-hyun’s actions that violence only breeds violence.
In the beginning Soo-hyun seems like a nice enough guy, looking forward to a future with his wife, Joo-yun. Once he becomes embroiled in his quest of revenge he quickly becomes a cold, removed psychopath focused only on making Kyung-chul suffer, not thinking of how his actions effect anyone else. I feel like you actually get more of an emotionally performance from Min-sik, although his character, who is a serial killer/rapist, is disgusting enough to where there’s no sympathy felt. Once Soo-hyun discovers who killed his wife, he repeatedly tortures Kyung-chul before letting him go. Tracking him with a GPS device, he hunts him down over and over again so as to torture his victim mentally as well as physically. While this doesn’t sound like a bad thing to happen to someone as terrible as Kyung-chul, by letting him go Soo-hyun puts others at risk to suffer at Kyung-chul’s hands, who becomes more frustrated and unpredictable with each assault. Soo-hyun also puts himself at risk, who’s blood lust consumes him, driving the point home how his actions do nothing but harm those around him and continues the cycle of violence.
Despite the two and a half hour run time the film moves at a fast enough pace so that it never drags and keeps you pulled in. Cinematographer Lee Mo-gae, who’s worked with Kim Jee-woon before, outdoes himself shooting a beautiful and slick looking movie that carries a dark, tense atmosphere. Both lead actors are superb, as is the whole supporting cast, with Choi Min-sik really stealing the show. When it comes to graphic violence, this film holds nothing back, it’s one of the most violent films I’ve seen in awhile. From action sequences to scenes of torture, there’s blood splattered all over this movie, no gorehound will leave disappointed. Despite this, there’s enough emotional weight felt throughout the film to keep it from feeling like a heartless gorefest.
I can see I Saw the Devil reaching the ranks of such cult Asian exploitation classics such as Oldboy, Ichi the Killer, or Tetsuo: The Iron Man with it’s powerful story and extreme violence, albeit more comparable with the former with it’s dark revenge themes and lack of campy flair. Although Soo-hyun’s actions may seem too extreme for his character to be believable, it’s meant to be over the top to show the dangers of violence corrupting a once good person. I recommend this to any fan of extreme cinema and a good, gory revenge movie with some heart behind it. But mostly blood.