Movie #148 I Saw The Devil
(2011, Korea, d. Kim Ji-woon)
After a day of pondering, I still don’t know whether I hated this movie or loved it. A better statement, I don’t think I know whether to ridicule this movie or praise this movie. But before I get started, a couple of forewarnings: this is by far the most violent and gruesome movie I’ve ever seen. I think part of the movie’s perverted enjoyment comes from discovering what wild and inventive way to give pain the filmmakers have in store for the viewers next. Second, not having made my complete decision on the film, the following review may seem a bit paradoxical and hypocritical at times, but bear with me. The first 30 minutes or so of this 2 and a half hour film are beautifully set up. The entire audience was at the edge of their seats or purposively not when they were closing their eyes. But the biggest note here is that the scares weren’t cheap. Korea is home to my favorite national cinema and most of the films produced there in the last two decades just burst with originality and creativity. The first 30 minutes or so demonstrate this. An excellent revenge-flick set-up, I Saw The Devil introduces the viewers to one of the most wonderfully evil villains to grace the silver screen in movie history, and that’s saying a lot. The villain in question is played by Choi Min-Sik (most American viewers will recognize him as the protagonist in the popular Korean Park Chan-Wook film Oldboy – another revenge movie). Though I would have loved to see someone more genial play the devilish serial killer – someone like Song Kang-Ho, one of my favorite actors – do believe when I say I’m not complaining at all – Min-Sik was phenomenal. In one of the opening scenes alone, he murders a lonely woman on the road, beats her with a hammer, cuts up her body, beheads her with a guillotine, disposes of the body, and then sits on his bed and jams on the guitar. The guy is sadistic, perverted, inhumane, and literally without ANY redeemable quality. In fact, the only human quality he ever displays is shame but I think Satan can show that at times as well. One of the victims’ husband is a police officer, who decides to track down the killer. Without giving too much away, he feels like simple revenge wouldn’t suffice, considering the amount of damage the killer has inflicted on all his victims. So what he does is hurt him to the point of near-death, let him heal, hurt him again, let him heal, hurt, heal, etc.. The movie feels episodic in this sense. Every time you feel like the film is over, the protagonist lets Min-Sik go. It almost feels like an NC-17 version of the Road Runner. However, there are downfalls and the first is the violence its advertised for. While the violence was creative in its own sense, after the first 30 minutes, it was so excessive that it started becoming comical. I don’t know whether that laughter was due to being uncomfortable or it was the only way to express the disgust we were viewing, but everyone was cracking up. I don’t know if this was the intention of the filmmakers – to point out the ridiculous nature of revenge by highlighting the grotesque nature of it. By combining elements of satire and severe violence, we are forced to become objective viewers, not caught up in the action but rather just witnesses of it. The only downfall to this message: it was done before in the Park Chan-wook’s famous revenge trilogy. I could easily see this movie being labeled as “stupid” but I think there was an actual point to the film – I don’t know if it was muddled up in the blood and crap and human meat food though (literally, they show those too). To add to the dilemma, both of the actors turn in phenomenal performances. Lee Byung-Hun and Choi Min-Sik are incredible, though again, I don’t know if the material was up to their level. The fight sequences (one in particular involving a moving car and a maniacal Min-Sik) are executed to a tee but the biggest question I’m still asking is “Does the movie deserve itself?” I don’t know if I’ll find that answer, but for now, if you can stomach the movie, check it out. It hits theaters soon.