The police are on the hunt for a serial killer played by Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) but when Choi’s character Kyung-chul brutally murders the pregnant fiancé of Intelligence Agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun – The Good, the Bad, the Weird) he ends up with another man on his tail, a man who will stop at nothing for vengeance. Soo-hyun tracks down Kyung-chul and beats him senseless, but instead of killing him or handing him over to the authorities, Soo-hyun plants a tracking device inside the murderer so he can keep track of his every move and continue to enact his violent revenge over and over again.
The most obvious talking point regarding this film is its traumatic violence. Although it generally comes in short, sharp bursts, it is frequent and excruciating to witness. I’m not a fan of the Saw films and haven’t seen Hostel but along with Kill List this is probably the most violent film I’ve ever seen and I had to turn away from the screen on a couple of occasions. This is not a film for those who are easily put off by gore, brutality and violence. Although I think that the level of violence in warranted in the story, I thought that at times it did slightly detract from the telling of it. It did however show the lengths that Soo-hyun would go to in order to get revenge.
The film is directed skilfully by Kim Ji-woon, a man known for expert camera work and beautifully stylized films. Beautiful cinematography along with vengeance is another trademark of Korean cinema and is apparent here. Kim gets wonderful performances from his actors and both leads do a marvellous job. I cannot think of a more unsettling or memorable screen villain from recent times as Choi Min-sik’s Kyung-chul. He is a total monster without any redeeming features. Lee Byung-hun’s Soo-hyun is more complicated. He shows great emotional depth at times but as the film progresses he becomes more of a monster himself and the line between good and evil is not only crossed but trounced upon. In amongst the repugnant violence that both central characters exhibit, there is an undercurrent of real emotion and despite the overbearing brutality, this does come through on the screen. Both performances are incredibly powerful. The minor cast feature little but there are good performances from a cannibal and his partner who are met along the way.
|Though violent, this scene is also darkly comic|
I Saw the Devil is a film that is going to stay with me for a long time. This is in part down to the violence but I think more so because it is a well made and acted film with a strong central theme and a terrific and jaw dropping ending. It is dark and frenzied and although I wouldn’t say it is enjoyable, it is a fine film that sits rightly amongst the likes of Oldboy and Confessions.