Here’s a review I did for the Ji-woon Kim movie I Saw the devil, as published on Express Tribune:
I Saw the Devil is the fourth Ji-woon Kim film I have seen and loved, and amazingly, each one is vastly different from the next.
A Tale of Two Sisters was a horror flick, A Bittersweet Life became one of my favourite action movies, and The Good, the Bad and the Weird was a hilarious comedy-western. Which brings us to I Saw the Devil, a nail-biting crime thriller. Kim’s versatility and his ability to excel in each genre he explores reminds me of my all-time favourite director Stanley Kubrick.
I believe this is the third consecutive Ji-woon Kim movie starring Byung-hun Lee, and here he plays Kim Soo-hyeon, an agent working for a South Korean intelligence agency. His fiancée is brutally murdered by a serial killer Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik fromOldboy), and Soo-hyeon makes it his life’s purpose to track down the killer and exact a revenge that truly, and I mean truly, makes the killer feel the pain that he inflicted on his victims.
Every time Soo-hyeon catches Kyung-chul he tortures him, then proceeds to have him treated for the injuries that he has inflicted on him, so that he can feel the pain all over again the next time he catches him. Perversely, not only does Kyung-chul start enjoying this cat-and-mouse game with his hunter, but Soo-hyeon also begins to cross the line, slowly becoming a monster himself, The ensuing internal conflict the protagonist suffers after realising this makes the movie psychologically so much more interesting than a straight-up revenge thriller like, say, Taken. Indeed, the question is: how easy is it to become a ‘monster’? If a ‘normal’ person was pushed beyond a certain point, could he or she do something as horrible as what Soo-hyeon does?
Byung-hun Lee is absolutely brilliant in the film, reminiscent of his role in A Bittersweet Life. He is unbelievably tough and resilient, yet emotionally vulnerable. And Min-sik Choi plays his character superbly: he is menacing, chaotic, and a slave to his wanton desires. Anything is possible with Kyung-chul, he has no limits, and that is a reality that Soo-hyeon has to face and pay for dearly when he messes with him.
Along the way, Soo-hyeon also meets some pretty messed up friends of Kyung-chul’s and these encounters are some of the best parts of the movie, a darkly comic celebration of madness and murder. In fact, we go through a directory of psychopaths, and one begins to see that there is a kind of hierarchy amongst them, with Kyung-chul undoubtedly coming out on top. Oh yes, I Saw the Devil is certainly not for the faint-hearted, there is much blood-gushing severing of limbs that goes on throughout the movie. And I won’t say that it isn’t indulgent, because what else should a director do if not indulge his audience?
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 30th, 2011.