I Saw The Devil(2010) Unrated. Contains nudity, grisly violence, gore. Dir: Kim Ji-Woon, Language: Korean
This film is playing at Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles.
In I Saw The Devil, Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is an embodiment of evil, a serial killer who mutilates his victims, many of them women. One night, Ju-yeon, daughter of a retired police chief and pregnant fiancée of elite special agent Dae-hoon (Lee Byung Hun), is brutally murdered by Kyung-chul. Obsessed with revenge, Dae-hoon decides to track down the murderer, even if doing so means becoming a monster himself. When he finds Kyung-chul, turning him in is the last thing on his mind. He will make him pay.
I was really split on this one. The voyeuristic nihilism of it all was too gross to watch. First off, let me add that this isn’t a poorly made film by any technical standards. It’s just that it was incredibly unpleasant to experience. I watch films (as long as you pay for them) for entertainment purposes. It is a transactional medium after all. Artistic merit aside, if a person is asked to pay $12 for a movie, the film is asking to be judged on its monetary value. I tend to side with Alfred Hitchcock when he said, “A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it.”
Director Kim Ji-Woon is a stylistic director of genre films. From his horror film, Tale of Two Sisters, to action films like A Bittersweet Life and comedic adventures like The Good, The Bad, And The Weird, his films tend not to be complex in plot nor deep, but are visual marvels that are extremely entertaining with maybe a twist at the end. I Saw The Devil is a much darker, depressing, and unsettling departure from his previous works. I felt the director focused too much on shocking the audience. The visuals have richness in color that is typical of his work, but the many scenes of stomach-churning gore and extreme, realistic violence can really dull the senses. Heads and limbs are cruelly cut up, and/or realistically hit with blunt objects or stabbed. Too much for me. Seeing women being cut up and/or raped by a serial killer is depressing and well, too voyeuristic. True, the killer gets his just desserts (boy, does he ever), but I’m more of a fan of the cerebral, “showing less is more” style of filmmaking. I like Hitchcock.
Lee Byung-Hun’s acting is pretty amazing here as Dae-hoon. As the husband of a murdered wife, one can truly feel all that is going on in his mind through his restrained expressions and words. He can’t cry because he has essentially lost all feeling. He has become like a machine with one purpose-revenge. He has great charisma and screen presence (he played Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe). Throughout the film, he becomes more of a monster as he tries to make the killer pay for his crimes. Choi Min-Sik is absolutely despicable as the serial killer, Kyung-chul. Choi Min-Sik is like Gary Oldman (or probably closer to Russel Crowe in popularity) of South Korea. It’s freaky to see him play such an unsympathetic character, which he has no problem doing.
The plot itself isn’t very complex. The film is more about the characters and their mindset. Kyung-chul has no regard for human life. Dae-hoon has no regard for Kyung-chul’s life…or is there something more? Throughout the film, more details are revealed about Kyung-chul as well as Dae-hoon’s vengeful plans.
Watching this film was like drinking acid. And, experiencing that may have been the main point of this film. But, c’mon. One doesn’t need to constantly be tortured to explain the mercurial, horrifying nature of vengeance. The news is depressing as it is. The film outdoes Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance trilogy quite a bit in terms of shock and gore, but not in its theme. Have we become so desensitized to this stuff that we must always push the boundaries? This version I saw appeared to be uncut. Things do come together in the end, but the painful journey was what stayed with me.
My Rating: * ½ out of **** stars