I Saw The Devil Review
Traversing familiar movie themes of the hunter becoming the hunted and a loved one seeking revenge, it’s a sign of I Saw The Devil’s quality that it never once feels tired and constantly manages to surprise. Relentless violent and tense, Kim Jee-Woon’s latest isn’t for the faint-hearted but those willing to go along with the ride will be rewarded with a film that dishes out dark thrills by the proverbial bucketload. One just hopes that the depths it plunges in asking its central question of just how far you would go for revenge, will prove to be too twisted for even the most remake-hungry Hollywood executive as it’s hard to see how anyone could top it.
I Saw The Devil wastes no time getting going with the seemingly straightforward plot set up in the first ten minutes when the pregnant wife of secret agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is brutally murdered by serial killer Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), setting Soo-hyun off on a personal revenge mission. To say more would be to spoil the film, but it certainly takes on an interesting dynamic early on which you might not have come to expect and certainly keeps the viewer on edge, blurring the moral edge of the film in the process. In amongst the violent carnage, what’s crucial to the film’s success is that Jee-woon never forgets to keep the characters central to the film, preventing it from descending into a typical torture porn flick.
It helps that the director has the performances of Byung-hun and Min-sik to utilise though as they are both excellent; Byung-hun all controlled aggression hiding a darker torment, while Min-sik is completely unhinged in his first role back since his self-imposed exile from film, clearly relishing his character’s complete lack of morality. They are ably supported by Choi Moo-sung as Kyung-chul’s friend Tae-joo who also happens to be a serial killer, but oddly works effectively as the film’s comic relief. There’s a very strong streak of black humour bubbling under the surface in the film, allowing the viewer a release from the sheer, nail-biting tension at the most unexpected of moments.
What also lifts I Saw The Devil above your standard serial killer/detective fare is also the stunning cinematography by Lee Mogae and an equally impressive score from Mowg. The former makes a film that could have gotten bogged down in dark and gritty corridors, gorgeous to look at and also excels during the film’s action sequences, including a bravura car attack sequence, shot from the inside in constant 360 degree pans. Mowg’s score perfectly complements the different moods of the film as well; pulsating when everything is seemingly coming to a head and subtle when quietness is the most effective mood-setter.
The film isn’t an easy watch though as even if it’s really not as violent as it’s made out to be, it is extremely brutal when it has to be. Often it’s left to the imagination what is happening, but it tends to be the manner of what’s happening, such as Kyung-chul’s method of body disposal, that is the most difficult to stomach. It can be unflinching though, such as as one squirm-inducing punishment involving the Achilles’ tendon, and does revel in the blood squirts that can be created from several blows to the head. However, anyone who expects that this film will be their ‘type’ of film have probably seen far worse.
For some, the plot twists might prove to be too unbelievable, arguably derailing what starts off as a starkly realistic horror, but if you manage to accept them, I Saw The Devil is an astonishing piece of work that grips you from first to last reel. The potentially off-putting two hours plus runtime simply flies by and doesn’t meander for one second with something constantly happening that will grab your attention. It’s a very welcome return to films for Choi Min-sik and an equally welcome addition to the Lee Byung-hun and Kim Jee-woon collaborative catalogue, although its criminally limited theatrical run (followed closely by a DVD release on May 9th) means that you’ll have to be quick to see this particular Diablo.