A challenger to Park Chan-wook as Korea’s most talented filmmakers is Kim Jee-woon, who directed such notable films as A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Jee-woon has been known to enjoy tackling different genres and this time takes a stab (pun intended) at horror with I Saw the Devil, a dark and demented tale of a crimson serial killer…and his hunter.
The delivered synopsis sums the film up quite well as it’s nothing original in any way, shape, or form, but what’s important is the execution. I Saw The Devil stars Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) as a psychopathic serial killer (Kyung-chul) up against Lee Byung-hun (Three… Extremes, G.I. Joe) as a special agent (Joo-yeon) 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. In short, he is intent on torturing Kyung-chul by catching him, beating the crap out of him, and then letting him go. Then repeat.
A film like I Saw the Devil makes quality filmmakers stand out like a sore thumb. As cliché as the thriller is, it was captivating from start to finish, and features some of the most brilliantly directed sequences of the year. In an extremely tense moment, a beaten and wounded Kyung-chul luckily lands a cab ride in the middle of nowhere. The audience knows he’s a psychopath, but what we don’t know is he just landed in a cab with two other homicidal maniacs. The tension is cut with a vicious stabbing scene that’s directed in such a way I’ve never witnessed. As Kyung-chul stabs the living sh*t out of these people, the camera spins along the inside of the car for a good 30 seconds. It was so brilliantly executed that I couldn’t even tell you how it was done.
The version shown at TIFF was the director’s 7-minutes longer cut that we’re told will be released in the States by Magnet. Jee-woon never tones down the violence for the audience as he cuts right through an Achilles tendon, beats a person’s head in with a rock, and decapitates another. And while the gore level if off the chain, he shows restraint and never quite pushes it over the top.
What truly makes I Saw the Devil one of my favorite films of the year is that Jee-woon makes each and every frame of the two and a half hour film interesting. There’s not a single boring moment as the intensity of the situation rises exponentially until the very last frame. In fact, Jee-woon has a taste for the bizarre giving audiences an homage to classics such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In one of the crazier moments we’re introduced to Kyung-chul’s brother who has a taste for red meat, and causing pain. As the two reunite, his brother chomps down human meat as they go eye-to-eye in a psychopathic staring contest.
I could talk for hours about I Saw the Devil, but nothing I can say will ever do it justice. The film is an experience; it’s something that will have you emotionally invested in the characters, while also covering your eyes at the extreme violence. I Saw the Devil has everything a horror fan could want, and more. It easily rivals The Host, Oldboy and other Asian thrillers of the past ten years. If Magnet releases this in theaters it’s highly recommended that you take some time out and look the Devil right in the eyes.