I Saw the Devil (2010)
(18) Running Time: 141 mins
Director: Jee-Woon Kim
Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
I should warn you now, if you plan to view Jee-Woon Kim’s (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good the Bad the Weird) I Saw the Devil, then you’d better have a strong stomach. Here is the ultimate in Asian entertainment, it is incredibly violent, painfully violent in places, it is clever, original, full of ideas and fantastic scenes, it is playful and somehow manages to make certain scenes slightly amusing and is brave enough to make a little mockery out if itself. Kim is one of the finest director’s from South Korea, and here he proves yet again that the bastard is near untouchable when it comes to making quality films. I mean, seriously, with such a long running time and such a simple plot, you would imagine the film may drag slightly, but it never does. It even goes all the way of reaching it’s conclusion almost an hour before the credits roll and start to wonder, just what can Kim pull out the bag to continue to make this film interesting. Is it all based on graphic violence to keep shocking and upsetting the viewer into submission? In parts yes, but the graphic nature of the violence is just an added bonus, what REALLY drives this film is the performances of the central characters, namely Byung-hun Lee detective Kim-Soo Hyeon, and Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi as the vicious and vile serial killer Kyung Chul.
Now, the plot predominantly focuses on these two characters, and everyone else in the film falls into their story, often in pleasing and sometimes unexpected ways. Detective Hyeon is happily engaged until one day all his happiness is taken away from him by the monster that is Chul. He coldly captures his prey by driving an old bus and offering lifts to women stuck. Playing the nice guy they usually fall for it, but Hyeon’s wife does not and in a shocking display of anger, Chul smashes her car windscreen and drags her off into the night. Chul’s way if killing is cold, calculated and un-caring, a clear indication he has been doing this for a long time. I shant go into too much detail as not to spoil things, but obviously Detective Hyeon shows up, and find his fiancee dead, he literally goes mad with rage and his Captain gives him “as much time off as you need”. It is here you realise the Hyeon is well respected and liked, which makes what happens to him all the more shocking. He decides to track down his finacee’s killer whilst on leave, and have his revenge…
After the shocking murder of Hyeon’s fiancee, it doesn’t take long for the violence to return to the screen. He hunts down a small number of suspects, beating them and torturing them in order to get a confession. This is where we soon learn that, even though Chul is a serial killer and a man of vicious intent, this detective just might be able to match him at his own game. With brutal ferocity, Hyeon works his way through suspects in ways that almost make you feel sorry for them, however somehow the director blends some comedy into this which doesn’t detract, more lightens the mood as you wait for Hyeon to find his man. His man, on the other hand, is still killing in brutal fashion. A hammer attack on a beautiful woman is almost too real for comfort, and in a bizarre chain of events, Hyeon soon tracks him down to a giant greenhouse as Chul is about to rape a rather find looking female. Hyeon steps in to save the girl in spectacular fashion, and finally (well, its actually only about half an hour in) detective and serial killer meet and have a tremendous punch up, Now, in places the punch up is a bit comic book-like, with the two getting thrown every where and generally dealing with pain quite well. Hyeon battering Chul as the killer brandishes knives and all sorts of weapons to defend himself from the mad man. In an odd way, this scene is both fun and sickening, and the editing and presentation of the fighting and violence is simply superb. It is here that Hyeon hatches his devious plan which turns the revenge movie on its head.
Hyeon decides to not kill his fiancee’s murderer, instead he wants to torture the unfortunate fella in one of the greatest displays of brilliance I have seen in a film in a long long time. Hyeon pops a pill in Chul’s mouth while he is out cold, but it is not just a pill, it is actually a tracker which will allow Hyeon to be there every moment Chul attempts to commit another murder or rape. As you can imagine, this leads to some truly brilliant moments and, strangely enough, actually leads to some very well thought out and delivered moments of comedy. Everytime Chul believes he is about to get hid ‘fix’, Hyeon shows up out of the blue to give him a good kicking. The look on Chul’ face as the film goes on is priceless as he desperately attempts to either murder or have sex. It shouldn’t be funny, but it is! The coldness and need to kill from Chul is incredibly unsettling, he actually NEEDS to do it, he can’t function without it, its like a drug and not many serial killer films have managed to capture just how vulnerable and desperate these twisted individuals have actually become.
The violence dished out to Chul gets worse and, while you never actually sympathise with him, you do start to ever so slightly care for him as he looks a beaten man. As the film progresses he has more and more wounds and come the end he looks an absolute mess. Another genius move which cleverly blends shocks with comedy is seeing this man covered, literally head to toe in wounds, but still going, still desperate, still holding onto the fact he just might get his ‘fix’. One of the coldest moments in the film though, is when he turns and decides enough is enough, the look on his face goes from beaten man, to something far more hideous and so disturbing it will make you frightened. To say too much about this plot, simple as it is, would seriously spoil your enjoyment and I believe the less you know about how this unfolds, the better. Let’s just say that the film delivers on every level, it has lashings of sex, often quite perverse, the violence is brutal and at times will make you want to look away (witness an achilles heal scene that gives new meaning to the word “ouch”), the film has thrills, chases, comedy, passion, moments of pure joy, and moments of pure sadness. I Saw The Devil cleverly captures everything that makes Asian Cinema so exciting, so fresh.
See, over the past few year the French have been leading the way in all things dark, brutal and violent, and they have done an outstanding job, but it was always the Far East that pushed boundaries. With recent brutal movies like I Saw the Devil and Dream Home, Asian Cinema is back to claim its rightful place as the number one place to head to be shocked, thrilled and enthralled. There is SO much to like about I Saw the Devil I almost burst. But there is one more odd little piece of fact that I must share with you before you go, and that is blows to the head! I have never, in my life, seen a film with SO many scenes involving the victim being bashed around the head with either a hammer, or a metal pole or anything else. My God its everywhere in this film, one blow to the head after the next. Its madness!! In all seriousness though, I Saw the Devil should breath life back into Asian Cinema, this is one truly inspired movie, one of those moments which makes you fall in love with movies all over again. This is a glorious achievement by a director who just keeps on getting better and better and better. There is almost too much to like about this movie. If you love Asian Cinema, then I can’t imagine you disliking anything from this movie, if you have never had the pleasure of venturing into Asian Cinema, then I Saw the Devil is the perfect introduction for you. Simply perfect, I cannot recommend this movie enough!
[pt-filmtitle]I Saw The Devil[/pt-filmtitle]