I Saw the Devil (2010)

I Saw the Devil (2010) – Between this extremely raw thriller from Kim Ji-woon and the self-explanatory Vengeance Trilogy from Park Chan-wook I have learned one simple lesson: NEVER FUCK WITH A KOREAN. IT IS NOT WORTH IT. I have only a passing familiarity with South Korean films, mostly through the aforementioned Messrs. Kim and Park (and a bit from Bong Joon-ho), but from that small sample viewing it seems obvious to me that some of the most daring and stylish work of international cinema seems to be coming from there. The Good, the Bad, The Weird, The Host, Joint Security Area, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, and one of my all-time favorite films Oldboy all emerged from this scene so it’s one I’m definitely interested in exploring more.

I Saw the Devil is about a battle of wills between two men. It starts with a woman named Joo-yun (Oh San-ha) whose car is broken down on the side of the road. She calls her fiancé Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun from The Good, the Bad, the Weird, Joint Security Area, and G.I. Joe: The Rose of Cobra), who advises her to wait for a tow. Soon a helpful stranger named Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik from Oldboy) comes along and offers to help Joo-yun out. Joo-yun does quite trust him and opts to wait for the truck. Her mistrust soon proves accurate as Kyung-chul abducts and murders her. Her body is found by the police and the press. There is much sadness. However, Joo-yun’s father was the Chief of Police (Jeon Kuk-hwan) and he gives a list of possible suspects to Soo-hyun, who is as it turns out a GOD DAMN SECRET AGENT. Soo-hyun sets out with the single-minded goal of bloody vengeance.

This paragraph might qualify as a spoiler so maybe you want to skip reading as it concerns a major plot development that occurs about an hour in to the film. You can skip to the next paragraph for more qualitative evaluation without plot details. Okay, have all the spoiler-averse bailed on this paragraph? Good. About an hour into the movie Soo-hyun catches Kyung-chul in the act of trying to kill another girl. A fight ensues. Soo-hyun wins. Kyung-chul is broken and unconscious before him. Instead of killing him, Soo-hyun sets the murdering psychopath free because he decides he isn’t done hunting him yet. He wants the chase to continue because he does not feel that Kyung-chul has suffered enough for his crimes. When Soo-hyun plays at vengeance he does NOT fuck around.

Choi Min-sik portrays Kyung-chul as a beast. He’s a monster and clearly the devil alluded to in the film’s title. But over the course of the movie Soo-hyun becomes worse and worse in his pursuit. His growing sadism leads to the question of whether he’s becoming just as bad as the murderer in question. It’s one of those “stare into the abyss and the abyss stares back” type situations. At what price does vengeance come? The battle of wills and wits between the two men is violent and bloody and causes collateral damage to those around them. There are two or three parts of this movie that are so violent I had to look away. Anyone who knows me can infer that that’s pretty fucking extreme. I Saw the Devil is a brutally effective cat-and-mouse serial killer thriller and very much worth seeing if you have a strong stomach.

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