I Saw The Devil

I Saw The Devil


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Don't be lulled into a false security by I Saw The Devil's sweetly humorous opening scene - a juggernaut is coming and it is marked LOUD. For once this brief interlude, which sees Joo-yeon (Oh San-ha) share a slightly soppy conversation with her boyfriend Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) on her birthday, as she waits in snowfall for a roadside rescue truck to come and fix a flat tyre, she will be brutally slain, along with any trace of nuance.

She is the latest victim of serial killer (Choi Min-sik) - but as this film will go on to theorise, albeit incidentally, you don't need to be a psychopath to be capable of evil deeds. When Soo-hyun discovers his fiancee is the latest in a string of victims, he barely needs to be egged on by her retired police chief dad to go looking for the perpetrator. And he isn't just out to catch the murderer and make him pay with his liberty. Soo-hyun is much more concerned with exacting more intimate revenge - and to get to the truth, he is literally prepared to break people's balls (with a hammer). This toe-curling moment is, in fact, one of the less gory acts of violence in the film's 144 minutes.

After working out who her killer is, Soo-hyun - who is handily a secret agent, so knows how to handle a weapon or two - undertakes an increasingly bizarre game of cat and mouse with the murderer, resulting in a series of blood-thirsty showdowns and the disappearance of any sort of suspension of disbelief. With the volume of the casual, visceral violence - and the over-the-top score - already set to maximum, there is nowhere to go, so writer/director Kim Ji-Woon merely attempts to maintain the ferocity for the rest of the runtime. This Grand Guignol-style theatricality will prove too much for many - and the squeamish should give this a miss, since body parts are sliced, diced and, occasionally, served up on a plate.

Of course, the problem with setting the violence levels so high and refusing to let them drop means that any emotion other than anger and revenge are quickly jettisoned. The central idea that Soo-hyun is becoming as bad a monster as the killer is wafted tantalisingly at us, as he would rather maim his quarry and let him go than put a stop to his violence once and for all - a self-serving choice that puts a score of additional lives at risk. But considering how unflinching in his gaze Kim is in terms of physical brutality, he is remarkably reticent when it comes to exploring his characters' psychological motivations to violence in any meaningful way. In fact, they are all but dismissed in a line or two of dialogue to make way for the next gratuitously cruel set-piece.

The lack of nuance in the screenplay and direction, however, is probably just as well, because subtlety is also an unfamiliar term for actor Lee Byung-hun. He is more than able to carry off the action aspects of the plot, but when he tries to convey Soo-hyun's grief, he merely looks vaguely constipated, albeit prettily so. Entertainingly gung-ho to a point, there's no doubt that I Saw The Devil will become a staple of late night festival strands for the next year. But this is ultimately a triumph of blood-soaked style over meaningful substance.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2010
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I Saw The Devil packshot
After the daughter of a police chief is murdered by a serial killer, her fiance vows to hunt him down.
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Director: Kim Ji-woon

Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik

Year: 2010

Runtime: 144 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

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