Cinophile: I SAW THE DEVIL

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[column size=one_half position=first ]South Korea loves revenge movies, the most famous being Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy and Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance. South Korean films also enjoy exploring themes like crime, corruption and psychopathy. And they are known to not hold back much in terms of intensity. Yet even with all of that in mind, I Saw The Devil stands apart.

The movie starts with the kidnapping of a secret service agent’s fiancée, who is later found brutally murdered and dismembered. This puts the agent over the edge and he decides to find her killer himself, despite urgings from his colleagues and her father, a retired police officer, to leave it to the authorities. Being good at his job, it doesn’t take the agent long to locate the killer.

Normally that is how most movies end, but this moment is where things become interesting in I Saw The Devil. The agent decides to rather slowly torment the killer instead of just murdering them. So he injures the killer, but lets him go – only to follow him and make his life a living hell.  But the killer is anything but remorseful and the worse the agent’s tortures on him, the more aggressive and defiant he becomes. It plays on two popular tropes: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object; and when do they who fight monster turn into monsters themselves? You could also argue that it’s about what happens when you confront ultimate evil?

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I Saw The Devil has a reputation as being an extreme movie, but it’s one that is a little misguiding. Yes, this is not a feeble piece of cinema, but so many online reports make this sound like a torture porn saga – like watching Audition‘s foot-severing scene over and over again or having your brain torn apart like Irreversible. But things are a bit more subtle here and a lot of the violence is implied. Not all of it – some moments are brutally in your face, but I Saw The Devil is smart enough to juggle sheer shock with suggested brutality and offbeat surprises.

The feint of heart will still cringe – this is not a movie you should watch unless you sit comfortably with an experience like Oldboy or Public Enemy (Gonggongui jeok).

But if you like your thrillers films to have real edge and intelligence, with only a hint of compromise, then this bleak piece of cinema should be next on your queue. [/column] [column size=one_half position=last ]

Though its reputation as a cinema shocker is a little overblown – it’s not a gore hound or torture porn feature – I Saw The Devil is nonetheless not a feeble film. Its original cut saw it awarded the highest age restriction in South Korea. The film’s makers had to submit two new edits in order to get a lower rating, something that has stimulated the film’s extreme reputation. Overall a minute and a half was removed from the final cut and I Saw The Devil was meant to have been a much more gruesome experience.
Fans of Oldboy will enjoy Choi Min-sik’s serial killer in I Saw The Devil. Seen most recently as the main villain in Lucy, Choi has a knack for playing evil characters and his Kyung-chul is a movie villain for the ages. Byung-hun Lee, best known to Western audiences as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe movies, is equally formidable as the revenge-driven agent.
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I Saw The Devil was the first major movie that Choi Min-sik starred in since his self-imposed exile from South Korean Cinema four years previous. Choi is unhappy that the reduction in the number of days domestic films are shown in South Korea, resulting from U.S. pressure to have more time to air movies from American studios. He even gave back a major award to make his feeling clear. Choi isn’t happy with remakes either, seeing them as the result of strong-arm tactics by foreign studios. Choi wasn’t supportive of the Oldboy remake and probably isn’t about the proposed Western remake of I Saw The Devil either.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: December 1, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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