Sundance ’11 REVIEW: A Second Look at ‘I Saw the Devil’

One of my top 10 films of 2010 was Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil, which opens in limited theaters March 4 from Magnet Releasing.

A hard-boiled thriller, I Saw The Devil stars Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) as a psychopathic serial killer up against Lee Byung-hun as a special agent whose fiancée becomes one of his victims. Lee’s cool-headed and intelligent character in turn becomes a monster in order to avenge the killing.

Ryan Daley has chimed in with a review of his own and can be read by going beyond the break. Just how good is this thriller? Read on to find out. Don’t forget to catch up on all of our previous Sundance Film Festival reviews, interviews and news here.
I Saw the Devil is the textbook definition of an instant cult classic. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller in the vein of Insomnia or Seven, but in this case, the serial killer is the prey. I was eager to see I Saw the Devil after reading Mr. Disgusting’s rave review last year, but I purposely avoided reading any other coverage; I wanted to be able to go into the movie fairly blind. It’s the best way to experience this stunning revenge flick. Don’t read about it, don`t do any research, just see it as soon as you get the chance.

When Joo-yeon `s pregnant fiance is murdered and dismembered by Kyung-Chul, a cold-blooded serial killer, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Initially he confronts anyone of police interest (applying hammer to genitals, when necessary), but before long the trail leads to Kyung-Chul, and Joo-yeon knows that he’s found his man.

But rather than merely killing the heinous psychopath, Joo-yeon decides to toy with him. He watches as Kyung-Chul stalks his prey, preparing to kill an innocent victim, and then Joo-yeon intervenes, beating the living shit out of Kyung-Chul before letting him go, and then beginning the cycle all over again. What’s truly remarkable about I Saw the Devil is that it retains a charcoal black sense of humor even as it pushes its brutality to the grimmest of extremes. Kyung-Chul’s increasing incredulity– a look that reads what is this guy`s DEAL?–is particularly funny, as he gets attacked over and over again. These are witty, contemplative characters that you want to spend two and half hours with, even if you’re watching them through a blood mist of graphic violence.

Credit is due to the sharp script by Hoon-jung Park and near perfect casting. Min-Sik Choi from Oldboy plays Kyung-Chul with a laconic edge, a serial killer who knows he’s crazy and simply doesn’t give a shit. Byung-hun Lee (Three…Extremes) plays the vengeful fiance with the glowering stoicism of a schoolboy who has been bullied to the breaking point. Onscreen, they make for a potent combination.

Speaking of Oldboy, many comparisons are going to be made to Chan Wook-park’s much-loved revenge tale from 2003. In this reviewer’s opinion, I Saw the Devil is the superior film, with director Ji-Woon Kim creating a more immersive and involving experience, an escalating ballet of tension and gore that completely sucks you in. Don’t miss this one.

4/5 Skulls