Monday, February 13, 2012

I Saw the Devil

I absolutely love it when I stumble across an awesome film completely by accident.  Usually, it's because the movie has a cool cover, or I recognize an actor or director, but sometimes I read a quick synopsis and decide to give it a try.  That typically results in me watching crap like Faces in the Crowd, but every so often I come across a film that I have heard absolutely nothing about, and it turns out to be a gem.  While it is definitely not for the faint of heart, I Saw the Devil blew me away.

The concept of I Saw the Devil boils down to a revenge tale.  Kyung-chul (Oldboy's Min-Sik Choi) is a sadistic, murdering bastard.  One night, he encounters a woman with a flat tire and decides to murder her.  Why not, right?  The woman happened to be the pregnant fiancee of secret agent Soo-hyun (Storm Shadow in the GI Joe movies, Byung-hun Lee).  Being a total bad-ass, Soo-hyun decides to take some time off work to grieve...and systematically track down all of the known suspects the police have for the crime and ruin their lives, regardless of their guilt in this particular case.  So if you're a known predator that the police haven't been able to pin a case on, Soo-hyun is going to make you hurt.  Probably in your balls.
Hands will work, too
When he comes to Kyung-chuland on his list, Soo-hyun gets him to admit to the crime.  That's when things get a little weird.  Instead of killing the man who ruined his life, Soo-hyun merely breaks Kyung-chuland's wrist and suffocates him into unconsciousness.  He then slips a tracker into Kyung-chuland's body, so he can listen to the killer and find him anywhere.  Why?  Because Soo-hyun wants to turn a monster's life into a nightmare.  But to truly terrify such an evil person, won't that require Soo-hyun to become something just as bad?
L-R: good guy, bad guy (obviously)

What sets I Saw the Devil apart from all the other revenge-based horror movies out there?  There's a lot more depth here than you might initially suspect.  On the surface, this movie is borderline torture porn; if you can't bear to watch Hostel, then the intense sick violence in this movie will be a bit much.  Unlike Hostel, though, I Saw the Devil makes sure to have a hero on hand to keep the legitimately frightening villain in check.  That changes the tone of the movie.  Instead of having that weird snuff film vibe, this movie makes you extremely uncomfortable as you watch a killer terrorize his intended victims, but then relives you by having the hero show up and beat the living hell out of the killer.  There is a lot of tension-building in this movie, followed by some very satisfying relief by proxy.  Soo-hyun keeps letting Kyung-chuland go, though, despite his crimes.  It quickly becomes clear that this is a game of cat-and-mouse with two people who both fancy themselves cats.  As the film progresses, Soo-hyun's actions become less and less acceptable with more and more collateral damage.  What, exactly, makes a monster?  That is what makes this movie fascinating.

The acting in I Saw the Devil was top-notch from the two leads.  Min-Sik Choi was genuinely disturbing in his role.  Normally, serial killers come across as caricatures or stereotypes on film, but he was absolutely frightening. 
I hope he's not a method actor
I loved Oldboy, but I had no idea that Choi could take that same physicality to a role that was so blatantly evil.  This is easily the most chilling serial killer I have seen on film since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  What surprised me was how much I enjoyed Byung-hun Lee as the hero.  He looks pretty dull...
...and yet, his jacket is a popular Google search
and starts out fairly typical, but his first interaction with the villain changes all that.  I expected Lee to spend a decent amount of time looking tortured onscreen, but I liked his choice to play everything icily cool.  IMDb doesn't have the complete cast listed for this film, so I'm not 100% sure who played Kyung-chuland's cannibal buddy (I think it was Moo-sung Choi), but he was the best of the supporting cast.

Jee-Woon Kim directed I Saw the Devil, and his next film will be Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to acting.  Given the talent he displays in this film, I would have hoped for a better introduction to Hollywood, but whatever.  Kim took a story that could have easily been exploitative and all about the gore, and he shaped it into a tightly-wound, intense experience.  The violence in this film is jarring and frightening, but it is that effective thanks to the effective atmosphere Kim creates.  Sure, the cinematography was nice and the gore was gory, but they are just tools used to create a wonderfully uncomfortable and disturbing movie.

As for the horror elements and violence in I Saw the Devil, they're pretty brutal.  There is definitely something in this movie for everyone, as far as squirm-inducing violence goes.  The severed Achilles tendon scene was perhaps the hardest for me to watch, but there's a variety of equally tough and realistic bits in the film.  The gore isn't what makes this such a scary movie, though.  It is the prolonged periods where Kyung-chuland is alone with a victim and is just being intimidating as all hell.  It doesn't help that the hero winds up being just as bad as the villain in some respects, either.  He could have easily prevented many deaths and his actions in the final scene were awesomely wicked.
You're damn right!
Is I Saw the Devil a movie for everyone?  Definitely not.  But if you're in the mood for a surprisingly intelligent horror movie with explicit violence --- and why wouldn't you be? --- I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

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