Today: February 23, 2024
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I Saw The Devil Review

A bloody revenge thriller that questions the morals of its audience as well as its characters.

A bloody revenge thriller that questions the morals
of its audience as well as its characters.

Revenge films
have the ability to tap into a very primal human instinct. The one whereby when
we are wronged there is a desperate desire to see those culpable suffer in as
much, if not more, ways than ourselves. While cinema has churned out revenge
films for years most of them pale in comparison to Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy. Fans of Old Boy (2003) et al will no doubt revel in the latest revenge opus
from Korea and in many ways that is the purpose of the film. On the one hand it
is designed to have gore fans leaping for joy, but, it is also intended to make
you question your own moral structure that you could find yourself delighting
in such brutality.

On the hunt
one-night serial killer Jyunch-chul (Choi)
kills a pregnant woman and throws her head in a nearby river. But when husband
to the murdered woman, Soo-hyeon (Lee),
turns out to be a secret agent a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues which will
result in all manner of chaos.

I Saw The Devil
presents a clever spin on an otherwise tried and tested genre. There is no
mystery here; we know who the killer is within minutes of the film starting.
Furthermore, we are encouraged to wholeheartedly agree with our heroe’s
motives. The morbidly dark twist arrives when Soo-hyeon implants a tracking
device in Jyuch-chul’s stomach meaning that he can track him down at will. To
this degree he takes great pleasure in torturing his wife’s killer before
setting him free and beginning the ritual all over again.

It is a
wonderfully sinister set-up that pays dividends in the excitement of seeing
what dastardly deed our hero will come up with next. It is here that director Jee-woo Kim strategically plants seeds
of moral ambiguity in our mind. With his gritty, almost Se7en (1995) like, visuals there is a distinct air of foreboding.
For every time Jyunch-chul is released he continues his killing spree meaning
that as the body count rises so does Soo-hyeon’s responsibility. If he were to
simply keep the killer locked away he would avoid further murder to innocent
people but that would negate his thrill of the chase. Towards the end it
becomes increasingly difficult to establish who the ‘Devil’ of the title is.

This is not to
imply that the film is heavy handed. Yes the violence is painfully real and
graphic but Kim has the ability to underlie everything with a sick sense of
humor. In this world there is a murderer or cannibal around every corner. In one
exhilarating sequence Jyunch-chul aggressively stabs a cab driver and his
passenger to death only to open the trunk of the car and discover a body. The
ironic comment is delightfully bleak as Jyunch-chul grins at the discovery and
mutters to himself “sick bastards” before going to visit his cannibalistic
friend. Like Kim’s previous film The
Good, The Bad And The Weird
(2008) the action is endlessly kinetic and
visceral. There are moments of Jason Bourne like inventiveness and energy to
the fight sequences making the film a genuine plethora of guilty pleasures.

Old Boy’s Choi
plays Jyunch-chul to manic delight. It is an utterly over the top performance
but in this bleak world makes complete sense. It is Lee though who brings a
wonderfully cold approach to Soo-hyeon, conveying a steely determination that
screams of ruthless killer rather than grieving husband. Only at the end, his
plan fulfilled, does he allow an ocean of emotion to wash over him making it
all the more powerful to behold.

For some it will
be too much to take in, however, for fans of violent crime thrillers it is a
perfect balance of right and wrong that reads like Michael Mann’s Heat (1995)
meets Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). Like the great
exploitation video nasties of the 1970s it is awash with moral ambiguity and
crowd-pleasing cruelty. Approach it with caution as you are likely to encounter
the Devil in I Saw The Devil.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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