Let's be honest, revenge flicks are a dime a dozen. Someone is wronged, their family killed, and they start on a path of vengeance and destruction, ultimately leading to the antagonist's demise. We've seen the hostile induced formula used by the likes of Tarantino, Leone, and Spielberg among many others. The only reason we keep watching these films, as predictable as they may be, is based on how original they can be with a rehashed story. For the past ten years or so the genre has been, more times than not, masterfully executed by Korean filmmakers. Korea has been responsible for some of the most stomach-churning violent revenge films in recent years, but also the most artistically well executed; Oldboy and The Man From Nowhere come to mind.
Kim Jee-woon, the director of The Man From Nowhere, creates another revenge study with his even more violent tale, I Saw the Devil. Byung-hun Lee plays a secret agent whose wife is brutally murdered by a sadistic serial killer, wonderfully portrayed by Oldboy's Min-sik Choi. Out for, of course revenge, the agent quickly tracks down the serial killer and beats him to a bloody pulp. Before ending his miserable life however, the agent lets the sadist go with a tracking device planted inside of him. The agent is then able to keep appearing when the killer least expects him to, and beats the crap out of him again. The meaning; the agent wants the killer to suffer tenfold what he does to his victims. He believes if he keeps catching and letting the killer go, he will exact the most meaningful revenge.
Let me start off by saying that I Saw the Devil is one of the most raw, savagely brutal movies I have ever seen. I'm not one to be put off by violence in a movie, it doesn't usually bother me. But if you are someone who gets squeamish at gory movies, than better off you skip this one. Jee-woon creates is constantly creating a scene more shockingly violent than the last. People, usually women here, get stabbed, raped, body parts sliced off, and are beaten to death by hammers. The shots are not subtle either; the director makes sure the audience views every blow and every cut to the victims.
While the point of showing this much violence is obviously to make the audience feel uncomfortable at the depraved acts, I have to say that sometimes it can go overboard. Some of the stuff in this movie is really hard to watch, and I've seen some of the most "violent" films ever. Jee-woon wants to show how much of a monster Choi's character is, but some of his acts would work better if it was left up to the audience's imagination. The overkill of gore here can start to wear thin, sometimes questionable as pure shock value.
The story, as described above, is nothing new or original, but where the movie makes up for that is in style and the performances. The cinematography in the movie is picture perfect, creating a bleak and dark atmosphere. The settings, like the botanical garden and the killer's dungeon, are created with dark colors and ominous tones of bare, desolate lighting. The direction by Jee-woon is decent by comparison, but doesn't offer anything extraordinary. The pacing of the film, which clocks in at 140 minutes, is a tad lethargic and repetitive. Some scenes carry on too long without a rewarding payoff.
With all of the movie's faults with its structure, the performances are what really make it stand out. Byung-hun Lee, which you may remember from American films like G.I. Joe, does a convincing job as the secret agent. Lee's character is faced with becoming a monster to destroy the monster. The actor is able to convey a terrific force of conflict which can be seen on film. The real actor to watch in this movie is Min-sik Choi, who plays the evil serial killer. Choi plays the character as a man who knows what he does is sick and evil, but just doesn't care. He is a complete psychopath and makes no apologies. And he's an absolute blast to watch on screen, even if sometimes we want to look away at what he does.
I Saw the Devil isn't quite as good as other Korean films like The Man from Nowhere, but it's not as bad as other movies either. It's somewhere in the middle. The plot is nothing new, and the running time is too long for its own good, but the acting and atmosphere is top notch. I'd say if you don't mind the most depraved, brutal violence shown on screen, give this one a watch.
The Agent's and Killer's first interaction
Recommended if you like Oldboy, The Man from Nowhere, Silence of the Lambs
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