I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil DVD Review

2011
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Script: Park Hoon-jung
Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik

If revenge is a dish best served cold, Kim Ji-woon’s latest movie depicts a retribution so agonisingly prolonged that it’s covered in a veneer of mould by the time it’s doled out.

Upon hearing that his fiancé has become the latest victim of a serial killer, formidable secret agent Soo-hyun (A Bittersweet Life‘s Lee Byung-hun) soon tracks him down and takes his bloody vengeance. Rather than kill the vicious Kyung-chul (Old Boy‘s Choi Min-sik), however, Soo-hyun forces a tracking device down his throat and releases him.

I Saw the Devil

Lee Byung-hun in I Saw the Devil

Thus begins a bizarre game of cat and mouse, in which Soo-hyun episodically interrupts Kyung-chul mid-kill, and beats him to the brink of death before releasing him once more. But the aged Kyung-chul, a psychopath seemingly lacking a modus operandi, is not one to be backed into a corner, and inevitably begins to turn the tables on his pursuer.

This visceral Korean horror/thriller was recut for its native theatrical release, and it’s easy to see why. Kim Ji-woon showed a devotion to the crimson in A Tale of Two Sisters and an adept handling of graphic violence in A Bittersweet Life, but Devil is more visceral than any of his previous efforts. As Kyung-chul continues his intermittent killing spree Ji-woon leaves nothing to the imagination, meticulously chronicling the remorseless psychopath with a pornographer’s confidence. This intimacy works to almost beautiful effect in a slo-motion knife fight containing within a speeding car, but the movie stalls at several rape scenes that not only leave a bad taste in the mouth but detract from Soo-hyun’s indirect route of revenge.

I Saw the Devil

Choi Min-sik in I Saw the Devil

Yet despite my reservations concerning the level of on-screen violence, I Saw the Devil achieved something few recent genre movies have; it kept me second guessing. Even the film’s most repugnant torture scenes – several of which will have the Saw crowd wishing they’d stayed with the ironic, comic book gore of Western horror – do not fully diminish Park Hoon-jung’s emotionally-charged script and Ji-woon’s energetic direction. This hunter-prey revenge thriller is compulsive viewing throughout, if best avoided by the faint of heart.

7/10

Extras: Interviews with the director and cast, a Making Of doc and the obligatory TV spot and teaser trailer.

I Saw the Devil is available now in the UK, from Optimum Home Releasing.

Carl Doherty has written about movies, video games, comic books and literature for almost a decade, forging ill-informed critiques for numerous websites, blogs and publications that no one has ever heard of. His debut novel, the epic fantasy comedy Welcome to The Fold, is available now on Kindle here (UK) and here (US).

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