Published Mar 11, 2011If you plan to see I Saw the Devil, you'd better have a strong stomach and a little sadism in your blood. Seldom have I heard an audience so audibly gasp, wince, holler, laugh, cheer and clap during the same film.
Ji-woon Kim is a certified chameleon at this point in his career. Following mercurial ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters and epic western comedy The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Kim has shuffled genres again to try his hand at a morally murky serial killer revenge torture picture.
Byung-hun Lee (the Bad, in The Good, The Bad, The Weird) portrays a grief-stricken security agent hell-bent on tracking down and punishing his wife's murder after parts of her mutilated body are found in a river. The director spends a bit of time with this first victim, establishing a sweet, doting relationship in just a few beats of a phone conversation with her husband. That we witness her grisly murder sets up an emotional connection to Lee's grief, made palpable by one of many great moments in his performance.
Where most films would simply follow the vengeance-seeking husband, Kim casts the formidable Min-sik Choi (Oldboy) as the sadistic psycho, who we see right from the opening scene, and follow in as much, or more, detail as the hero. The very concept of heroism is darkly scrutinized, crossing into vigilante revenge and the toll associated with acting monstrous in order to punish a monster. It's a film as darkly funny as it is morbidly beautiful, at times. It's also brutal and merciless in its promises of escalating violence as the two men try to one up each other's pain, leaving Kim the task of making the audience squirm more with each exchange.
At nearly two-and-a-half hours, I Saw the Devil should feel long but doesn't. There's nary a spare moment where tension isn't being built and released then pulled taut anew, often to disturbing, nauseating new heights. If a perfect companion to Chan-wook Park's Vengeance trilogy perks your sadistic streak, set your sights on this Devil. (Peppermint)