Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi
Written by: Hoon-jung Park
Directed by: Jee-woon Kim
After his fiancee is brutally murdered by a serial killer, a man takes justice in his own hands, tormenting and torturing the killer.
I love a good revenge thriller. Hell, half the time I like bad revenge thrillers. The Crow. A Man Apart. Man on Fire. Those are just a few that spring to mind. Obviously, the quality runs the gamut in those I named. I just have a soft spot for the genre. So it was surprising that when I began watching I Saw the Devil that what I got was a revenge thriller. From the cover art, I expected one of those weird Korean horror films. This is an expertly crafted revenge thriller, well made with a surprising amount of wickedness running through it’s veins. It pulls very few punches and strikes a deep emotional core. It is a film that you should see at least once, despite the subtitles (I know a lot of you hate subtitles).
After his fiancee is brutally murdered by a serial killer, Soo-hyun (Byung-hun Lee) goes after the killer. A member of National Intelligence Service, Soo-hyun soon tracks down the killer. He beats the shit out of him, but lets him live. Soon, Soo-hyun is tracking the killers every movement and tormenting him. A deadly cat and mouse game is being played between hunter and hunted.
I Saw the Devil is an intense film. Make no mistake. Throughout the entire film, there is this undercurrent that slowly ratchets the tension up, as this deadly game is being played by these two men. You know this is not going to end well. But for who? Our hero who descends into monstrosity to stop a monster? He found said monster fairly easy but toys with him, leaving him alive to kill again and again, only showing up occasionally to stop him. Yes, he is seeking revenge and feels the killer needs to be worked into a painful, tear streaked confession before revenge can be had. But how can you make a monster fear you when they have no conscience? When they are only living for the moment and the instant gratification of the kill or the rape? You cannot make men like that fear you, no matter how much pain you put them in. Our hero never loses his humanity, but the things he does are monstrous as well. He walks that fine line between justice and torture and it is painful to watch at times.
Make no mistake, this is a dark movie and very difficult to watch sometimes. There are no moments of humor to lighten the tension. Soo-hyun is laser focused on his mission to make this killer pay.
At almost two and half hours, I Saw the Devil is fairly long for this type of film, but it never gets old or stale. While I have seen many, many revenge thrillers, none have had me questioning where the film was going to go next. This one did. I really had no idea until the final frame what the outcome was going to be. Thinking back, this is odd. There really isn’t anything exceedingly new being done here. Perhaps it’s the cultural barrier or my own expectations that hampered me guessing what was coming next. As I said, I expected a horror film, not a revenge thriller.
I suppose in a way, this could be considered a horror film, much the same way that Gone Girl can be considered a horror film. Like that film, the things you see will horrify you and give a sense of revulsion. Neither film is easy to watch.
Serial killers. Cannibals. Revenge. Games of cat and mouse. These are the things you get when you go into I Saw the Devil. It may be disturbing to some, but it really is a damn fine film. I found myself glued to the film, wondering where it was going next, how deep it would take me down the rabbit hole. It kept me invested and intrigued throughout it’s two and half hour runtime. I recommend this highly.
***1/2 out of ****