Acclaimed South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon is set to release his latest foray into the realm of horror on March 4 with “I Saw the Devil,” marking the director’s return to the genre after a seven year absence. Kim has made a name for himself amongst underground movie fans, attaining cult status especially amongst connoisseurs of Asian cinema. Central to Kim’s appeal is his utter refusal to stay in one genre, crafting movies ranging form the darkly comical “The Quiet Family” to his most recent film “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” in which he successfully transplants the American spaghetti western into Japanese occupied northeast China during the 1930s.
A common thread that always seems to carry over in Kim’s pictures is the use of over the top, some would say gratuitous, violence. In this regard, “I Saw the Devil” looks as though it will not break suite. The story follows a government agent bent on revenge as he tracks a deranged serial killer. While this premise sounds rather mundane, Kim has a track record of taking preconceived notions about the genre he is working in and turning them upside down.
In “A Tale of Two Sisters,” Kim’s last horror movie, the director begins with a fairly standard plot line: two young sisters return to their father’s home to face an evil stepmother and a ghostly force. While many elements seems standard enough, a wicked step mother, a pale skinned apparition with bad posture and long, black bangs hanging in her face, a strangely isolated house in the country, and an oddly complacent father, Kim manages to craft a film wholly different from such run of the mill Asian horror titles as “The Ring” and “The Grudge” which he seems to be drawing inspiration from. Instead the film stems more from the tenuous madness found in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense,” although the movie’s ending would be better described as a mind fuck than a twist.
Kim has established himself as a superb director of horror, creating tension and atmosphere that gnaw at the viewers’ psyche in a way startles never could. It would be safe to guess that Kim will bring this penchant to “I Saw the Devil,” along with his affinity for over-the-top action scenes and a healthy amount of gore.
Given Kim’s ability to re-imagine overused movie genres, it seems likely that “I Saw the Devil” will meet the standard fans have come to expect from the legendary Korean director. Although Kim did not write the film, as he did the other works he has gained notoriety for, surely his knack for upending modern convention and his ability to craft scenes of violence that would make the most sociopathic Hong-Kong director blush, will lead to another classic, or at least cult classic. The movie opens Friday.