Every so often I can watch a movie and have one scene that takes place and immediately after I have that feeling that tells me I’m going to love the film even if the ending doesn’t blow me away. I had exactly that moment during Jee-Woon Kim’s brilliantly twisted I SAW THE DEVIL, except if it was just one scene I’d have been happy, but I SAW THE DEVIL is chock full of some pretty jaw dropping scenes of action and violence. With a hefty runtime that contains an almost non-stop barrage of intense character conflicts and shocking brutality Jee-Woon Kim has given movie lovers a sublime cat and mouse game that is at times hard to watch but also impossible to take your eyes off of.
Min-sik Choi stars as the deranged serial killer, Kyung-chul, who has a penchant for stalking women and sexually assaulting them before he brutally murders them. Byung-hun Lee also stars as the secret agent, Kim Soo-hyeon, who plans a vicious revenge plot against Kyung-Chul after his pregnant fiancé becomes the latest of Kyung-Chul’s victims. Soo-hyeon soon becomes a monster himself while catching Kyung-Chul, harming him in horrific ways, releasing him back into the public and repeating this loop multiple times.
I think the most disturbing thing about I SAW THE DEVIL is how watchable it ends up being even with all the brutal and sadistic the violence upon women and other characters. Jee-woon Kim is unafraid to show you uncompromising shots of shocking violence and giving them to you in an almost nonstop fashion. When the characters are not maiming each other they are involved in sequences of dialogue describing sadistic intentions or sneaking in some dark uncomfortable laughs. The conflict the audience takes on is how far we are willing to accept Soo-hyeon’s revenge before he becomes almost as unlikeable as Kyung-chul. Of course Kyung-chul is morally reprehensible as a character and it’s natural to want to see him get what he deserves but what you don’t want to happen is to see the man tasked with being the hero descend to his level to the point where you don’t take joy in the revenge. Luckily, I never got to the point where I felt the psychopath Kyung-chul didn’t deserve the torture, but did feel the dread of the consequences of Soo-hyeon’s actions.
The performances are phenomenal; Byung-hun Lee embodies the damaged psyche of a mourning lover while also putting on the mask of a vengeful monster at a believable and almost scary level. Min-sik Choi, however, at times upstages Lee with his disturbing portrayal of a completely miserable human being. Choi plays a calm cool and collected serial killer and looking into his eyes becomes absolutely chilling and hearing his voice just adds tension to the scenes. Choi embodies the character that shows no remorse or regrets for his actions at a sickening and disturbing level.
If performances and impressive character drama don’t do it for you, then if for nothing else you should see I SAW THE DEVIL for one scene in particular. I don’t want to spoil the whole scene but just keep an eye out for a scene where the beaten and bloody Kyung-chul hitches a cab ride. Once that scene kicks in buckle up because it is a wild, wild ride.
If my overwhelming praise hasn’t already sent you running to go check it out you’re already missing out. I loved I SAW THE DEVIL more than any English speaking movie I saw throughout 2010. I didn’t revel in the gratuitous and brutal violence, but I admire the filmmaker’s commitment to it and I was left in awe by how it affected me. The cinematography is gorgeous, the script is sharp and sometimes funny and the two main performances are phenomenal. I don’t believe that any movie perfect, but I have very little if anything to gripe about here. Jee-woon Kim’s I SAW THE DEVIL is an intense, brutal and haunting work of art that I personally won’t soon forget.