Review: I Saw the Devil

Korean cinema once again blurs the line of good and evil while at the same time twisting your stomach and fraying your nerves. This film isn’t Oldboy but it is certainly memorable.

When a police officer’s fiancee is tortured and killed by a serial killer, he vows revenge by hunting the killer down and… instead of handing him over to authority or even killing him, the officer instead exacts his own torture and deprives the killer of further victims.

Directed by Kim Jee-woon (The Good, the Bad and the Weird; a cult favourite of mine) and starring Min-sik Choi and Byung-hun Lee in the lead roles, this film certainly delivered what I was expecting. Some great acting with disturbing characters and good film making.
Who are these people, you might ask, Min-sik Choi is most recognised as the lead from the original Oldboy (within my top 20 films) and you might recognise Byung-hun Lee as he features in recent western blockbusters such as the G.I Joe films.

I Saw the Devil is not for the faint of heart. Our serial killer, who we follow for most of the story, is rapist and murderer of young women, and we see a lot of what he does. Unlike a lot of western cinema this film doesn’t pull its punches very often, but the effect is exactly as the narrative requires. The killer is merciless, but our “hero” becomes so unhinged with revenge that he becomes something of a monster himself.
While many can sympathise with revenge, especially on someone so hideously deprived as our killer, the calculated lengths in which our law abiding officer goes to make him suffer makes the audience start to question his integrity.
The film’s best moments are surely when these two characters connect; the brief moments when the murderous hunter is hunted down himself. Byung-hun Lee is an excellent on-screen fighter and even shows some parkour skills here too, coupled with Min-sik Choi’s terribly disturbing finesse at acting as a psychopath, you have a great chemistry between the two.
I was a little worried for repetition when the character looked to reenact the hammer scene from Oldboy, but it wasn’t so. Instead we get a similarly great fight within a moving taxi cab!

But, this isn’t as good as Oldboy (the theme of revenge makes the two supposedly comparable) certainly my expectations weren’t too high and this easily exceeded them, but I Saw the Devil felt a little drawn out. I think twenty minutes could have been cut easily from it and still have the impact. This feeling is exaggerated with multiple moments of “is that the end?” It also suffers from some occasional cliches, though I can’t say it was predictable.

It isn’t for everyone, sex and increasingly agonising torture scenes are rife, but fans of the slasher genre definitely need apply! The film making is above average and doesn’t fall into too many cheap shocks and the acting is excellent, making it one of the best in the genre.

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