Year: 2010 (South Korea), 2011 (USA)
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Writer: Hoon-jung Park
Country of Origin: South Korea
Language: Korean
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: Not Rated
35mm, Color, 144 mins.

Synopsis: ‘I Saw The Devil’ is a shockingly violent and stunningly accomplished tale of murder and revenge. The embodiment of pure evil, Kyung-chul is a dangerous psychopath who kills for pleasure. His latest victim is the beautiful Juyeon, daughter of a retired police chief and pregnant fiancĂ©e of elite special agent Soo-hyun. Obsessed with revenge, Soo-hyun is determined to track down the murderer, even if doing so means becoming a monster himself. (Source)

Trailer:

Review: After 2008’s wildly entertaining, western-genre-bending The Good, The Bad, The Weird, I was extremely excited about the prospect of acclaimed Korean director Jee-woon Kim’s next film. A few years later, and the surreal landscapes of railroad hopping, horseback riding bounty hunters are traded in for an unrelentingly candid portrayal of vengeance in its most destructive and violent capacity.

Superlatives abound with this one. Once again, Min-sik Choi (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) brings the goods as the chilling serial killer Kyung-chul. Truly a talented actor, Choi plays the character with a multi-faceted confidence that makes Kyung-chul terrifying. Misleadingly benign one moment, Kyung-chul quickly devolves into the psychotic gesticulations of a violent sociopath, hyperviolent and heartless. The counterpoint to Choi’s wild unpredictability is Byung-hun Lee’s (The Good, The Bad, The Weird; G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) Soo-hyeon Kim, hellbent on revenge for the murder of his wife at the hands of Kyung-chul. Nearly clinical in his calculatedness, Kim provides the perfect foil to Kyung-chul’s polarity, making their eventual conflation all the more significant. Watching these two combat (figuratively and literally) is great, with the strengths of each on full display.

I Saw The Devil also benefits from some expertly directed action sequences. Essentially a crime/psychological thriller, there was ample opportunity for director Jee-woon Kim to flex his fight and chase scene muscles and he doesn’t disappoint. In particular, the two leads’ inaugural clash in the greenhouse and the dizzying cab car scene reflect Kim’s potent ability to craft tight, suspenseful action.

Also worthy of admiration is Jee-woon Kim’s fearlessness. This film tackles the topic of vengeance’s capacity to blur the line between good and evil, and it does so in an intensely graphic manner that is without compromise. It explores some of the darkest and most violent corners of a person, bravely taking an already extreme condition and stretching it to its very limits. I find it particularly interesting how in revenge’s most obsessive manifestation, their really isn’t a difference between Kyung-chul and Soo-hyeon. All apparent differences just fade away, and you’re left with two monsters utterly consumed by their perverse ambitions. The realization that in the quest to cull justice for the worst of wrongs Soo-hyeon has become exactly that which he seeks to annihilate is bleak, leading to some pointed question’s about means, ends, and the consequences of unchecked motivation. That’s probably my favorite aspect of this film, its commitment to the subject matter, and I really respect that Kim took such a narrative and thematic risk. I understand that for some, the brutality and violence may be overwhelming, but I do believe the film’s excess comes with a ton of merit.

There are a couple of minor issues I had with the movie though, in particular its length. Clocking in at 144 minutes, unfortunately the middle portion drags on some, and the cat and mouse dynamic cycles through bits of repetition a tad too much for my taste. I don’t think the relationship between Kyung-chul and Soo-hyeon would have suffered were things trimmed a bit, and it would help to quicken a somewhat numbing pace in the rising action.

If you can stomach the trauma and violence, I Saw The Devil is well worth the watch. If not for its risk, then for its craft, as both deserve heaps of credit. Either way, I’m hooked on what Jee-woon Kim is selling, so here’s to another great filmmaker transcending mediocrity.

Presentation/Special Features: The 1080p transfer is pretty great, and there’s just enough of grain to make it look very filmic. A lot of the movie is dark, but the shadow delineation strikes a balance between being impressionistic, and defined, while the inky blacks are a great contrast to some bright primaries that pop up every now and then. There’s a great 27 min featurette that talks in length about the highly stylized action scenes; not only how they were created, but the concepts and emotion behind them. It’s totally worth a watch. Other than that, there are some deleted scenes (boring) and trailers. Not a whole lot going on, but the movie is strong enough to make the entire thing worth it.

Movie Rating: 4/5 Blu Rating: 4/5

RP