Review: I SAW THE DEVIL 악마를 보았다 (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Friday, 21 January 2011

Review: I SAW THE DEVIL 악마를 보았다 (2010)


Revenge has never been this grisly and mean-spirited in I SAW THE DEVIL, the highly-anticipated fifth feature by extraordinary filmmaker Kim Ji-Woon (2008's THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD). Although revenge genre is nothing new and has been countlessly flooded in the Korean cinema ever since the enormous popularity of Park Chan-Wook's "Vengeance" trilogy, Kim Ji-Woon's I SAW THE DEVIL is a unique beast of its own -- and I've gotta admit that this is among the most uncomfortably violent and genuinely intense experiences I've ever seen in a long while.

The movie begins with a serial killer Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-Sik) abducting a female victim (Oh San-Ha), who is apparently stranded in her car with flat tire on a snowy night. After knocking her head repeatedly with a hammer, he takes her back to his place. He spares her no mercy by dismembering her before he disposes her various body parts all over the place. The particular female victim happens to be So-Hyun's (Lee Byung-Hun) fiance who is an agent working for the National Intelligence Service. Upon discovering her grisly death in which her decapitated head found in the river, So-Hyun is completely devastated and make a promise to his dead fiance as well as his father-in-law, Jang (Jeon Kuk-Hwan) who is a veteran homicide detective, that he'll find and torture the killer at every way imaginable. So he takes two-week leave to set out a vigilante mission in which he begins his search and uses unorthodox method to gain information from some of the suspects until he confirms that the one he's been looking for is Kyung-Chul (especially after he found the engagement ring left where his dead fiance is slaughtered). So-Hyun manages to find Kyung-Chul in a greenhouse, where he is about to rape a school teenager. A brutal fight ensues, but instead of So-Hyun having his chance to kill him, he forces him to swallow a capsule which is actually a tracking device and later decides to set him free. Soon a series of cat-and-mouse chases begin as So-Hyun relies on his GPS to track down Kyung-Chul's whereabouts. And each time Kyung-Chul is up to his rape-and-murder routine, So-Hyun is repeating the same process by torturing him and letting him go again. However, at some point, So-Hyun seems to be underestimated his prey, and things take an unexpected turn when Kyung-Chul manages to outsmart him in a game of reversal.

No doubt that I SAW THE DEVIL is extremely violent movie not suitable for those with weak stomach. Series of violence, blood and gore flow freely in this movie and director Kim Ji-Woon spares no mercy to depict them as graphic as possible to the dizzying height that makes you feel squeamish, even for those die-hard fans. In fact it is so extreme that the movie has originally obtained a rare 19+ (the most restrictive rating in Korean cinema) and forced to re-edit for a total of seven cuts to avoid complete ban for theatrical release. Among the most glaring cut is the depiction of cannibalism in the dinner scene where Kyung-Chul and his serial killer partner, Tae-Joo (Choi Moo-Sung) originally had body parts on their dinner table, but was later modified in the final release to have beef instead. Despite some of the cuts, the movie remains very disturbing to watch for. Such scenes including a suspect gets his genital beaten up brutally by a hammer is certainly make your eyes winced, while one particularly memorable scene where the camera spins 360-degree during when Kyung-Chul brutally stabs his knife against a driver and a passenger in the taxi cab.

The cast are superb, especially with brutally intense performances by Lee Byung-Hyun and Choi Min-Sik. Still at 144-minutes, a movie about revenge like this is certainly overlong and at times it would be favorable if Kim Ji-Woon omit some of the repetitive scenes at least half-an-hour shorter. Another gripe is Park Hoon-Jung's screenplay which is a bit self-indulgent for its graphic portrayal of revenge. Other than watching Lee Byung-Hyun and Choi Min-Sik going after each other in a series of violent cat-and mouse chases, we learn little about their characters until it's become so apparent that Kim Ji-Woon intends to make his movie more of a visually shocking experience than a cohesive whole.

Minor quibbles aside, I SAW THE DEVIL ranks as one of the best Korean movies of the year and certainly up to the standard of Park Chan-Wook's "Vengeance" trilogy.

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