Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Review: I Saw the Devil (2010)

More like I Saw a Super-Amazing Movie Called I Saw the Devil! When the credits rolled on this film, I could not wait to jump onto my computer and start raving about how fantastic it was. It is truly a superb thriller that does not hold the audience's hand through the ordeal. It shoves its face in every action and reaction and delves into the indescribable evil that lies inside some of us.

A plot for revenge: On a beautiful snowy night on a deserted road, young Ju-yeon has the misfortune of crossing paths with psychopathic serial killer Jang Kyung-chul. When her secret agent fiancee, Soo-hyun, finds out that he is the culprit, he sets out on a dangerous mission to make Kyung-chul suffer for his crimes.

The first thing that struck me about this movie was how absolutely gorgeous it is. The look of almost every scene is perfect. The colors are clear and vibrant, especially in the beginning (fluffy white snow and dark red blood) and in the scene where Soo-hyun attacks in the greenhouse place or whatever it was. The tunnel of green with the man in black barreling down on his prey - so beautiful and intriguing. The lighting and set design are also well-done - obviously the product of a very skilled hand behind the camera.

Perhaps most people are tired of the same old revenge stories. I'm not. And I don't see how anyone could call it a lesser sub-genre of horror than the typical slashers and serial killers. The basic story behind most of these films is a little tired maybe - someone gets killed or otherwise severely hurt and either they or their loved one takes revenge on the perpetrator. I Saw the Devil goes on a bit of a different path in that Soo-hyun does not just take revenge on Kyun-chul by killing him or even torturing him for a bit and then killing him. He hunts him down, using his secret agent-y skills, and  catches him. But he only plays with him really, leaving a part of his body wounded before letting him go. Then Soo-hyun catches up with him again later, and, again, only leaves him injured but still alive.

This element of the story confused me at first. In fact, it wasn't until the cannibal literally explained what Soo-hyun was doing that I actually got his motivation. Sometimes I'm slow. And this actually turns out to be fortuitous for the good guys in the movie. Kyun-chul is a pleasure killer without a conscience and along the way of him running from Soo-hyun, the audience gets to meet different kinds of serial killers (all who seem "lowly" to Kyun-chul - inflated ego much?). Soo-hyun also pisses this guy off by attacking him two times just before he can have his fun with his next victims.

The two men Kyun-chul meets in the taxi cab are perhaps just killers of opportunity or thrill seekers, therefore they are not as sophisticated as he is (to him, that is). His cannibal friend is simply a psycho who kills to eat. Kyun-chul looks down on all of these guys as if the way he kills is so much better. This helps establish his character as a veritable opponent to Soo-hyun, who must gravely admit that he has underestimated this cold-hearted man.

With revenge stories (at least well done ones like this film or 7 Days for example) we get real emotion from the characters, from both the revenge-taker and his or her victim. Horror that is devoid of emotion - grief, pain, fear, guilt - is nothing more than gore for gore's sake. Now those movies are perfectly fine in my book, I enjoy them as much as the next fan, but sometimes a movie comes around and shows us that gore and horror can be done in a different way. It can be both gratuitous and emotionally effective, sickening and cathartic. I think I Saw the Devil succeeds at all of these things.

The horrific scenes are specific in this movie and while at times it can seem like too much, I think they are so effective and well-done. Achilles tendon slicing, repeated blows to the head with various objects, body parts chopped off - you name it, this movie probably has it in all of its bloody glory. The effects work is very good at getting just the right amount of disgust and excitement for horror fans. My favorite part was the attack on the guys in the taxi. So violent and so long, with each guy getting stabbed more times than I could count. This vicious assault was superbly shot, I loved it!

Sidenote: Don't repeated blows to the head with various objects usually cause a lot more trauma than is presented here? Seriously. Several people in this movie receive such hard knocks with pipes and other hard, blunt objects and are still standing for the next scene! Surely someone should have caught on to the unbelievability of that shit.

There is maybe one thing about this movie that bugs me. There doesn't seem to be an real overall message, either about revenge or anything else. At the end, Soo-hyun's final revenge is a bit too cold for my taste as he does it in front of Kyun-chul's family, but then Soo-hyun cries after all is said and done. Does he regret it or just feel bad about it because he is not evil like his victim? Or has he become evil? None of this is really explored, and while the audience is satisfied by Kyun-chul's death, nothing has really been learned. We've been through this tragic and bloody story, but are we better people? Do we understand anything more now? Depends on how you interpret the movie's actions, I guess.

I Saw the Devil is a bit long at almost two and a half hours but it never felt long to me. Each scene takes the story to new and elevated places and there is never a dull moment. It was simply a really, really good movie. Not the most sophisticated review sentence but honestly this movie blew me away. So beautifully shot and wonderfully acted.


  1. Great review. I saw I Saw the Devil at the weekend and thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. But, like you, I too had that little niggle at the end. Also I couldn't help but think that all Soo-hyun really accomplished was getting a lot of innocent people hurt/killed/irrevocably traumatised. None of this ruined my enjoyment though.
    Really enjoyed reading your review.

  2. Awesome review! I wanted to see this movie since last year and haven't had a chance to check it out yet but you made me want to check it out even more.

  3. @Jinx - Yeah, that was irresponsible on Soo-hyun's part to let those other people get hurt or potentially hurt by letting Kyun-chul go free. But he always managed to swoop in at the right time, anyway.

    @Real Queen - Definitely see this movie! It's worth the wait and anticipation. BTW, cute blog! Can't wait to read from you.

  4. Thank you, would love to see this movie. I thoroughly enjoy Stephen King. He is a master of this kind of stuff. Agree?
    Thank you for the blog.

  5. I just watched this movie! I realize i'm about four years too late, but anyway.
    I think the ending is about Soo Hyun realizing the pointlessness of it all, that he couldn't put fear or regret into Kyung Chul's heart, it finally hitting him how badly the people he loved had been hurt by his actions, that he couldn't avenge his fiancee, and also at the realization of how much of a monster he has become, at the end of it all.
    Also, regarding your sidenote: Apparently the human head CAN withstand quite a beating, and the owner of said head can actually come out standing. I think this movie actually did realistically depict that aspect. Although you could also say that Kyung Chul's ruthless desire to be the top dog causes him to stand at the end of it all, no matter how badly he's beaten.

    1. Your analysis of the ending is probably spot-on. Of course it's a depressing way to look at things, but sometimes that's how life goes.

      Really? Come on, there had to have been some kind of brain trauma going on here, at least! :) It does make the movie very brutal, though, which I loved.