Time: 141 Minutes
Lee Byung-hun as Kim Soo-hyun
Choi Min-sik as Jang Kyung-chul
Director: Kim Jee-woon
On a dark road, taxi driver Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) comes across a scared female motorist stranded in a broken-down vehicle. He pulls over — but not to help her. When the woman’s head is discovered in a local river, her devastated fiancé, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), a trained secret agent, becomes obsessed with hunting down her killer. Once he finds Kyung-chul, things get twisted. After brutally beating the murderer, Kim lets him go free, and a demented game of cat and mouse begins.
I remember hearing about I Saw the Devil for a while, I didn’t know much about it except that it involved serial killers, and the title alone gave the impression of being a horror movie. I heard some great things about it going into it but it actually turned out to be better than I thought it would be. A gruesome yet engaging horror thriller, it was amazing on so many levels.
I Saw the Devil is a revenge movie at its core, and there are plenty of revenge movies out there. There’s a lot more to it though, and so I do recommend going into it blind. It really is a blunt and graphic portrait of pure vengeance, intense, edgy, and unforgiving, yet thematically potent. From beginning to end, I was invested in which direction the story and characters would take. This movie really takes the typical cat and mouse and serial killer plots to a unique place. This time it’s the main character who is toying with the villain (and serial killer). Despite the killer being about as horrible as he could possibly be, it really shows that the main character really is losing it on his pursuit of vengeance, so it’s not just another gory revenge movie. I Saw the Devil is uncompromising in its darkness and brutality, yet never sadistic. It’s very graphically violent but never borders into torture porn, as the violence serves the characters and themes above everything. Despite it being sort of a thriller, I Saw the Devil arguably gives off horror vibes more than anything else, and you could argue it occasionally crosses into that territory many times. The movie was 2 hours and 22 minutes long, it’s pretty long but that runtime really flew by for me.
The acting is great all around, with the two leads really being the standouts. Lee Byng-hun plays the agent hunting the serial killer as revenge after his fiancée is brutally murdered. While you know his actions are rooted in a sense of justice, it ends up being out of control. Lee effortlessly brings his immensely flawed protagonist to life, despite the dark actions that he commits, he’s far too wrathful and headstrong to see his crusades as anything other than completely justified. At the same time, it’s impossible not to sympathise with him because you know that his actions are rooted in some sense of justice. Lee’s performance is a calm and determined one, with subtle nuances and facial expressions to convey both his desire for revenge, as well as his grief. The serial killer is played by Choi Min-sik, I knew him from playing the lead character in Oldboy, and here he’s in a very different kind of role. Choi’s character is downright loathsome and monstrous in this, absolutely the worst of the worst. But he owns the part perfectly and convincingly, he’s such an immense presence whenever he’s on screen. Both Lee and Choi bounce off each other greatly in their scenes together.
This film is directed by Kim Jee-woon, and his work is nothing short of excellent. First of all, it’s a fantastically shot film. The cinematography with its constant tracking shots is amazing and makes the dirty and grim sets and locations look more beautiful than they have any right to be. The scenes of action are great. There is a moment with Choi Min-sik in a taxi, and it’s a particularly impressive scene, and I still don’t know how they managed to pull it off. The violence on display can be so shockingly vicious that it verges on the absurd. Despite this, you feel the impact of these moments every single time.
I Saw the Devil is a grisly and grim yet excellent revenge horror thriller. It’s directed amazingly, performed greatly, and the story is engaging and visceral. It’s definitely not for everyone, if only for the extreme gore and violence. However if you like horrors and thrillers, I do think that it is definitely worth checking out, ideally knowing as little as possible beforehand.