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I Saw the Devil (2010)

June 1, 2011

8/10 Karma Kings 

Talk about vicious.

I Saw the Devil is about a bonafide psychopath who kills a woman by the side of the road and then dumps her remains in a nearby river. Soon after, the woman’s fiancee (who happens to be detective on the police force) finds the remains, dries his tears and decides to take two weeks off to start hunting down the possible suspects. When he finally gets around to the guy responsible, he beats him senseless and plants him with a tracking device instead of locking him up or snuffing him out. So when the bonafide psychopath wakes up and tries to go back to his normal routine of rape and murder, the detective magically shows up without fail to maim him silly and drop him off in some remote location to go about his business. You’d think one surprise visit would be enough of a cue for him to maybe change his ways, but since this guy is evil personified, he keeps on keepin’ on until he can find a way to turn the tables and satisfy his own thirst for revenge.

So I don’t know why, but I’ve been dodging director Jee-Woon Kim’s movies for ages now. I’ve been bumping The Good, the Bad, the Weird down on my Netflix queue for months now, I still haven’t seen A Bittersweet Life even though my buddy Paul told me a dozen or so times to check it out over the past year, and A Tale of Two Sisters is apparently some pretty crazy shit. Anyway, I Saw the Devil is Kim’s latest effort, and while I’m not really sure why I decided to mark this as my first introduction to the guy, good lord, was this one hell of a place to get acquainted.

For starters, a word of warning: this movie is fucked up.

I like to think that I’ve got pretty thick skin when it comes to on-screen violence, but every once in a while a movie comes along that puts it all out there and straight-up rattles me to the marrow. The last time that happened was with High Tension, and if you’ve seen High Tension, you’ll understand how serious this movie is. It’s beyond grisly, it leaves nothing to the imagination, and its characters not only bear zero remorse towards the brutality of their actions, but often relish in the pain and anguish that they’re so damn good at dishing out. But while I’m on the subject, the thing that ultimately brought down High Tension was that the story made zero effing sense and in turn made it feel kinda like torture porn. With that being said, the reasons it’s hard to write off I Saw the Devil as being in same ranks as Hostel are that the story doesn’t exist for the sole sake of one-upping the shock value and there’s something strangely believable about everything that happens.

Yeah, this is something that you can’t exactly sit back and enjoy idly, but when all is said and done, the payoff is worth it. Because as much as this is absolutely a horror movie, it’s just as much a character study fueled by vengeance. The villain of our story is played by Min-Sik Choi (aka: Oh Dae-Su from Oldboy), and not only does Choi absolutely blow this thing out of the water, but his character is a whole new breed of evil. He’s ruthless personified, he slaughters for no reason until he’s given one by the detective, and his emotional depth ranges from laughing while he kills you to laughing at your corpse. Seriously, this guy would have gotten along famously with Jeffrey Dahmer before thumping his skull in just for the hell of it, and the worst part is that he doesn’t seem fake, he seems frighteningly real in both actions and demeanor. This is the guy you pray doesn’t exist in real life but you know probably does, and that’s the real kicker.

Then there’s the “protagonist” of our story, the vigilante detective played by Byung-Hun Lee, and not only does he also blow this thing out of the water, but the more his bloodlust grows, the more he gives this serial killer a serious run for his money. Not quite as emotionless, easy to root for, and he sure knows a thing or two about running train without breaking a sweat. And he also wears that kickass jacket the whole time, which is awesome.

But the whole point of their back-and-forth, aside from the revenge thing, is that the more involved they become with one another, the more their “good guy”/”bad guy” roles start to blur. Although even at his worst, it’s hard to ever really compare the desperate detective with a murdered fiancee to the stone cold psycho with a garage full of dead girls and a best friend who’s a cannibal. But nevertheless, the message is there and it comes out loud and clear. This is a movie about how seeking vengeance only serves to foster revenge, how evil begets evil. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel with this one and it’s a harrowing ride all along, but it’s fantastic to see such a dark movie that has the substance to match the style, as horrific as it may be.

And the other thing that saves this from being an exercise in depravity is that it’s just so freakin’ well-made. For a plot that’s pretty straightforward for a while and more or less boils down to one guy whupping another guy’s ass over and over until the other guy starts to wise up to what’s going on, it’s freakin’ nuts how intense this movie gets. Kim’s camerawork bleeds style and precision to a degree that I rarely come across in American-made films and it’s plain to see that the dude knows exactly what he’s doing right from the start. Also great to see fight scenes that are not only original, but are filmed so that we’re not just left with a mess of blurry limbs. Jesus Christ, I need to watch his other movies already.

Folks, I really liked I Saw the Devil and I can’t remember the last time I sat through such a thoroughly heart-stopping revenge movie. I was totally unprepared for it, but if you think you’re up for this nutso ride through the pitch-black depths of the soul, then I say give it a whirl. Either way, you’ll probably know the answer to those questions within the first 15 minutes. As jaw-droppingly extreme and graphic as it is from beginning to end, this is one outrageously well-conceived, well-acted and unforgettable thriller that’s so damn horrifying because, as gnarly as it is, history has unfortunately seen worse.

And what a great title. More than enough to put asses in those seats.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2011 12:25 am

    Min-Sik Choi!

    I plan on watching “Old Boy” sometime this week.

    This sounds good too.

    Very good review Aiden. I like your comments on here and moviefone 😀


    • June 1, 2011 9:14 am

      Haha. Thank you much, sir. Have fun with Oldboy, that’s one effing crazy trip.

  2. June 1, 2011 12:29 am

    Hmmm…two things that came up on the last Matineecast in one post!

    • June 1, 2011 1:39 am

      Just listened to that podcast … very good. Looking forward to the episode when you guys have on Aiden.

      • June 1, 2011 9:14 am

        Any day now. And I agree, what an awesome podcast.

    • June 1, 2011 8:21 am

      Hahaha. Listening to it now, doing my homework, man!

  3. June 1, 2011 12:23 pm

    This is at the top of my Netflix queue. Can’t wait to see it! If Min-Sik Choi is in a movie, you know it’s going to be fucked up 😉

    • June 1, 2011 12:24 pm

      Hahaha. That’s a great rule of thumb to go by, one I probably should have been hip to beforehand.

  4. June 1, 2011 6:14 pm

    Looks like a solid thriller. Hope it hits DVD soon.

  5. June 1, 2011 7:15 pm

    This does look great.

    Finishing up “Old Boy” today – my review of it sometime this week –

    Not sure when it comes out on DVD, though.

    • June 2, 2011 12:17 pm

      Man, Oldboy. What a batshit movie that was. Not sure about non-US DVD release dates either, but definitely keep an eye out.

  6. June 1, 2011 10:13 pm

    Glad you enjoyed this film. It is not on the same level as Old Boy or Lady Vengeance but it is still up there when it comes to great revenge flicks.

    • June 2, 2011 12:03 pm

      This movie shits on Lady Vengeance. Like you, I was totally unprepared for it, but that scene in the cab, the 360 stab scene, are you kidding me? Crazy flick. I can live with a 8/10

      • June 2, 2011 12:16 pm

        Dude, I thought the exact same thing when that was going down. Outrageously well-filmed. Still need to see Lady Vengeance though, and Mr. Vengeance for that matter.

    • June 2, 2011 12:17 pm

      Yeah, I gotta brush up on my Asian revenge movies, but this was a keeper alright.

  7. June 3, 2011 1:48 am

    Some of my college friends kept asking me if I’ve seen this. Now, I see it here! From your review, it sounds like something I would enjoy so I’m definitely looking forward to watching it. Points for mentioning “High Tension” but I didn’t feel like it was torture porn.

    • June 3, 2011 9:10 am

      Yeah, ‘High Tension’ definitely wasn’t on the same sick level as ‘Hostel’, but it reached a whole new level of brutal. Definitely check this out though, memorable stuff.

      • June 4, 2011 4:14 pm

        Hostel. What a crappy movie. And a crappier sequel.

      • June 7, 2011 3:37 pm

        Only saw the first one, that seemed like enough.

  8. June 6, 2011 5:56 pm

    WOW!!!!! I watched this on Friday night, what an insanely fucked up yet awesome movie. It’s a movie I could easily be put off by but it’s so well made I was transfixed from beginning to end. Loved it.

    • June 7, 2011 3:41 pm

      Hahaha. I hear ya’, man. So well made, but so effing heinous. Glad to hear you’re on the bandwagon.

  9. Blain permalink
    June 8, 2011 12:10 am

    This film is so good even my mother loved it lol

  10. June 15, 2011 1:25 am

    I finally saw it. I literally got goosebumps during the scene when they found the head and everyone was clamoring to go see it. WHY would they wanna see it and take pictures? It sickened me, it scared me, it entertained me (and it made me laugh!). I loved the movie.

    • June 15, 2011 10:33 am

      Dude, I had the goosebumps going before that when he’s pushing her (or what’s left of her) around in his big basket in the basement. Outrageously brutal shit, but so much to love, right? I really need to watch more of this guy’s movies.

  11. Frank Ritz permalink
    July 22, 2011 1:46 pm

    Just watched this for the first time last night, and wow. Definite 9/10 for me, only problem I saw was lack of character development and how quick the beginning went. The ending is probably one of the best endings in the last 10 years or maybe ever. I can’t remember just going wow. Brilliant shot too, your review is completely spot on and awesome (as usual).

    2 quick side notes: 1. High Tension is awful. All the reasons you said. And this I found was better than Oldboy.
    2. He’s a special agent/secret service guy, not a detective. That’s why it’s even more believable.

    • July 27, 2011 2:34 pm

      Thanks, man. Yeah, that ending was out of sight, totally brought things full circle in a way I did not see coming in the least. One of many scenes from that movie that I can’t quite shake no matter how hard I try.

      1. And while High Tension didn’t make a lick of sense, that was one of the few movies I’ve ever seen that truly upset me with how brutal it was. Effing bonkers, but I also think this is better than Oldboy (except for the hallway fight scene in Oldboy, nothing beats that).
      2. And couldn’t quite remember what division he was working for, but yeah, that definitely makes sense.


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