29 April 2011


I Saw The Devil is about as far away as you can get from the blanket coverage of the royal wedding farrago earlier today, as you'll know if you got the chance to take a trip to the cinema to see it, instead of watching the Disney-esque romantic gubbins. Due to its uber-violent content, it's had a limited release today ahead of a DVD release next Monday.

In the vein of other revenge thrillers, a popular genre in Korea, we find a man who loses a loved one to a vicious murderer. Soo-hyeon is a secret agent whose pregnant fiancee is killed by the sadistic Kyung-chul. Taking two weeks' leave from work, he decides to track down Kyung-chul himself, but rather than taking vengeance forthwith, he begins an increasingly savage game of catch and release.

I don't know that I Saw The Devil is the goriest film ever made, as some have called it, but it's understandable that 144 minutes of what must certainly be the goriest film of 2011 seems like a bigger deal. For 144 minutes, it's surprisingly fast-paced and zippy. The difficulty for some will be that it's also rather stabby, hammer-y and choppy as well. The blood pours, flows, drizzles, squirts, gushes in a way that obscures many potentially more violent films from memory.

The two nemeses in the film are played by Byung-hun Lee and Min-sik Choi, the latter of whom was the hero (sort of) in Oldboy. Here, Choi is despicable and exasperated by equal turns as a sociopathic serial killer who frequently grumbles about how everybody is crazy except him. This while perpetrating hideous violence against women and repeatedly falling into the traps of his increasingly demented pursuer. After a while, he becomes almost like Wile E. Coyote, or Tom, or Scratchy, or another abused cartoon animal of your choice.

It's effectively a black comedy, though obviously splattered sporadically with red. The difficulty is that every now and then, the supporting characters, who are as satellites in this gory game of cat-and-mouse, will stop the action dead to refer to Nietzsche. The "He Who Fights Monsters" trope is easy to swallow just as long as characters don't stand around and talk about it. The character of Soo-hyeon is also another of those revenge movie protagonists with little personality to get us behind him.

Of course, after the opening scene, in which his fiancee meets her untimely and painful end, we want Hyung-chul to get his comeuppance. It's just hard to care about Soo-hyeon because he's nothing so complex as the film's Nietzschean musings. So often these films forget to install a personality. Motivation goes some of the way, but without personality, it does amount to 144 minutes of hard violence, sometimes from a deranged killer who we definitely don't like, and also from a protagonist we're meant to like but who, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, is actually "just this guy, you know?"

I Saw The Devil is certainly a tough watch, less because of the punishing amounts of gore and violence, or even because of the running time, and more because it's heavy-handed and there is less to it than you would think. Its moral compass is in perfect working order, it's artfully constructed and always shocking, but there's not as much to it as I would have expected. If you even have to ask after reading all of this if you're going to like it or not, then it's probably not for you.

I Saw The Devil is now showing in limited release nationwide, and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on May 9th.
If you've seen I Saw The Devil, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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