I Saw The Devil

I Saw The Devil

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Optimum Releasing 

Release date: April 29th 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 141 minutes

Original language: Korean with English subtitles

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Oh San-ha, Choi Min-sik

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“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.
When you gaze into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

While watching I Saw The Devil, I couldn’t but help but think back to this passage I read while studying Philosophy at university.

It’s something I’ve always found terrifying; to not only glimpse the monster, the darkness or the evil, but for it to fix its eyes on you…changing you forever. It’s this idea which embodies South Korean director, Kim Jee-Woon’s latest film.

I Saw The Devil

I Saw The Devil begins with a grisly murder. Ju-yeon (Oh San-ha), the daughter of a retired police chief is on her way home one snowy night when her car breaks down. Stranded and awaiting the arrival of a tow truck, she becomes the victim of Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-sik), a dangerous psychopath who kills for pleasure, his victims ranging from young women to children.

Ju-yeon’s fiancé, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), a top secret agent, decides to take two weeks off from his job but instead of taking time to grieve for her, he goes on a manhunt for Kyung-Chul. His mission becomes merciless, bloody and vengeful and he himself risks becoming a monster just like the one he’s after.

I Saw The Devil takes its cue from other Korean revenge thrillers such as Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy; Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), Oldboy (2003) Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) but pits two deranged characters at the story’s core.

I Saw The Devil

It’s extremely brutal in its depiction of Kyung-Chul’s lack of empathy toward his victims, yet when Soo-hyun finally catches him, the moment of retribution is short lived; it’s only the beginning of a twisted plan.

In an attempt to make the murderer feel remorse for his actions, Dae-Hoon continues to torment him, playing a game of catch-and-release, but therein lies the problem.

Although the film is masterfully shot and the performances verge on terrifying, I Saw The Devil’s premise starts to wear thin after the first hour when you get the feeling things should be wrapping up now. The constant game of catch-and-release adds nothing new to the story and only serves to show us what we already know about these characters. By this time as well, the gore no longer shocks or comes as a surprise and are no substitute for plot development.

I Saw The Devil

That’s not to say its all blood and entrails though. There’s a fair amount of melodrama here too. Emotions and family histories are expounded right from the beginning, allowing us much time to witness Ju-yeon’s father’s reaction when they find the remains of her body, right up to the film’s nail-biting conclusion when Kyung-Chul’s parents come searching for him.

While these moments are not as fast-paced as we’re probably used to in western films, it’s slowly drawn out tension, suspense and horror is what makes them a moment to behold here rather than its gory counterparts and serves the human element of the story well.

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