Brutal and brilliant; these two words perfectly sum up Kim Jee-Woon’s Korean revenge thriller I Saw the Devil, which is released in limited cinemas this week and then on Blu-Ray and DVD from the 9th of May.
After a raft of revenge movies recently, dealing with the dish which they say is best served cold, including Confessions and The Man from Nowhere along with Hollywood offerings such as Taken, Faster and Drive Angry it seems cinema is obsessed with what drives people to get their own back on those that have wronged them.
Jee-Woon’s film is head and shoulders above all of them not only in the intense and stunning performances it has but also the visceral violence which is as realistic and shocking as it is important to the emotional impact of the film.
I Saw the Devil begins with the murder of an innocent woman on a wintery night by sadistic serial killer Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik from Old Boy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). The victim is no ordinary woman however and as the daughter of a retired police chief and the fiancé of secret agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun from The Good, The Bad, The Weird and A Bittersweet Life) the search for her killer becomes a high priority for both men who have their own ways of dealing with their grief.
As the police chase down leads unsuccessfully Soo-hyun’s frustration and anger push him to take matters into his own highly trained hands. Vowing to do everything in his power to punish the man responsible for the death of his fiancé he starts his own crusade hunting murder Kyung-chul in the same obsessive way he hunts his own victims.
Taken to the edge of sanity by his single-minded crusade Soo-hyun plays a deadly game of cat and mouse with the psychopathic killer which ultimately could damage his soul and his psyche as much as he thinks it will heal his hurt and loss.
Coming from Korea comparisons are bound to be made with Chan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy which includes two films featuring Choi Min-sik but I Saw the Devil is a different beast altogether.
As Friedrich Nietzsche said ““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” and this is the real ethos of I Saw the Devil focussing on the clash between red hot rage and ice cold lunacy and how far one is willing to go to avenge the loss of their love.
Kim Jee-Woon seems to be able to turn his hand to any genre with the family horror of A Tale of Two Sisters, crime drama A Bittersweet Life to the martial arts madness of crazy adventure western The Good, the Bad, the Weird he excels in each one offering a variation on the traditional expectations.
Twisting the principles of an action thriller he mixes religious allegory and imagery with super stylised set pieces, including an amazingly filmed cab killing, and unsettlingly realistic and hard to watch moments of true fear. The characters inhabit a warped world full of psychopaths and victims unflinchingly showing the audience the impact of the merciless desires of the insane Kyung-chul played chillingly by Choi Min-sik.
His chaotic exuberant lunacy and malicious mania slams full force against the cold calm calculating almost emotionless Soo-hyun played with reservation and understatement by the excellent Lee Byung-hun who lets his actions speak much louder than his words as he literally breaks bones to get his blood soaked pound of flesh.
The psychological and physical battle between the two leads is brilliant and their pitch perfect powerhouse performances are the driving force of the film which along with the deft direction propels this movie above and beyond the seemingly endless amount of revenge thrillers which have hit our screens.
Not for the faint hearted I Saw the Devil is definitely one of the most disturbingly violent films of recent times. It talkes its audience on a dark and terrifying journey into that abyss where good and evil seem to cease to exist, showing the true price of revenge and leaving the audience haunted some time afterwards by what they have experienced.
Read our Interview with the movies lead actor Lee-Byung-Hun Here