Friday, March 11, 2011
I Saw the Devil (악마를 보았다)
Vengeance is one of the most popular subjects in Korean cinema in recent years, at least it appears to be that way. Films like "Oldboy" (올드보이 | South Korea 2003) sets the bar up high for the connotation for "revenge." Korean director Kim Ji-woon (김지운) attempts to exceed that bar both in visual and in story telling with his extremely violent new film "I Saw the Devil" (악마를 보았다 | South Korea 2010 | in Korean | 141 min.). , despite the fact that the film never lacks of gore and rolling body parts, it does not offer anything refreshing in vengeance, except the body counts and blood.
So-Hyun (Lee Byung-Hun) is a romantic secret agent who plans to marry police chief Ho's (Jeon Kuk-Hwan) daughter Joo-Yun (Oh San-Ha). However, when Joo-Yun's car breaks down in the snow, she falls into the hands of a psychopath serial killer Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-Sik), who drives a school bus hunting for his victims. Based on the information provided by Ho, So-Hyun goes on a mission to hunt Kyung-Chul and to execute his version of vengeance.
Although both Choi Min-Sik ("Oldboy") and Lee Byung-Hun ("The Good, the Bad, the Weird") give chilling and striking performance in the film as the mouse and the cat, they are helplessly constrained by the characters written for them. This is especially evident for the So-Hyun character.
Yes, So-Hyun suffers extreme grief and shock when his finance is murdered. But, that does not offer any logic for So-Hyun's actions—he releases Kyung-Chul each time after he captures and tortures him. His action only helps to accumulate more dead bodies. How that serve as part of So-Hyun's grand scheme of revenge is beyond anybody's right mind.
"I Saw the Devil" is not for the weak stomach. The film was re-cut twice before it could be released in South Korean with an equivalent "R" rating. Perhaps, that compromises the depth of some of these characters. The suspicion can only be confirmed or overturned by viewing the uncut version in the future on a DVD.
Despite the disappointing elements, the film still gives an unforgettable cinema experience that contains horror, humor ("Revenge is for movies," says Joo-Yun's sister when she tries to stop So-Hyun's vengeance spree), violence, and plenty flesh and blood. One thing is certain—you will definitely see devil, from both protagonists.