I Saw the Devil

Vengeance is Mine

         
 

04 March 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

One of the most crazy, intense thrillers ever made. Korean cinema is known for breaking barriers of restraint, but I Saw the Devil (in English subtitles) is more fearless than nearly all of its contemporaries. Sadistic, cruel, upsetting, and yet so riveting you can’t tear your eyes away – it’s a nerve-rattling rollercoaster. A federal agent whose fiancée was murdered pursues the serial killer responsible, entangling the two of them in a perpetual game of catch and release. The result, transgressive and unrepentant, is the most shocking Korean film since “Oldboy.”

Even with a long running time of two hours and twenty-one minutes, the fervor of excitement gets you to stop watching time. Have you ever been so absorbed by drama and suspense that you felt your life outside of the movie theater could be put on hold? Well on certain occasions, I have. I wanted immediate and steadfast revenge on an evil man, but here the proposed revenge is elaborate. We get a hero, highly trained in advanced martial arts fighting techniques, who does not want to capture his archenemy but to teach him the humiliation his victims experienced before their deaths.

Choi Min-sik, as serial killer Kyung-chul, is imperviously menacing and immalleable. He’s the DeNiro of Korean cinema, but in a one title comparison, if you saw DeNiro in “Cape Fear” (1991) as an unstoppable bulwark psychopath then you might be able to imagine how Min-sik is equally monstrous. If you’ve seen a couple of Korean films, you might recognize Min-sik from acclaimed titles such as “Happy End” (1999), “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002), “Chihwaseon” (2002), “Oldboy” (2003), “Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War” (2004) and “Lady Vengeance” (2005). Many of these were imported into the U.S. a couple of years after their original South Korean premiere. His character, a student safety bus driver by day, pitilessly leers at the fragileness of his victims.

Lee Byung-hun, as federal agent Soo-hyun, is a physically agile brawler and merciless punisher but also meets the requirements of a man wound to tightly contained grief. He has matinee idol popularity among his base fan followers. Byung-hun has starred in “Joint Security Area” (2000), “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” (2008) and had an American debut in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009) which didn’t necessarily require acting. In this film, he has long stretches in-between dialogue but the difference is that you feel in his every move that he is acting out of self-torment, out of burning necessity that scourges his insides. His chosen method of vengeance is atypical. Can he put Kyung-chul through a charade that will teach him the meaning of sympathy and remorse?

The scenario as a whole is of course over the top but it plays right in excavating psychological credibility. This is an example of when melodrama works. But, with its escalation of violence and bruises that are more like body gnashes, it’s far from ordinary. Call it extreme melodrama, and it gets into further extremes, catalyzed by a twist that pits him against unforeseen conspirators. The official worldwide term is Asia Extreme which has thrived so productively over the last ten years that it has become its own cataloged genre.

There might not be an American equivalent of violent thrillers to compare it to so you need enough guts to take it on. But a case like this is when movie-watching itself becomes an unpredictable adventure. The thrills are so forceful that it summons wincing as a powerful reaction. What puts it within acceptable limits is that we share vital concern for the hero and want vengeance as badly as he does.

    

Directed by Kim Ji-woon (“A Tale of Two Sisters,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird”). Exclusive theatrical engagements around the country begin on March 4th.

141 Minutes. Unrated.

HORROR / SUSPENSE-THRILLER / FRIDAY NIGHT THRILLS

Film Cousins: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974); “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991); “Seven” (1995); “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” (2002, South Korea).

               

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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