I Saw the Devil (South Korea, 2010)

i-saw-the-devil-dvd-cover-96Directed by: Kim Jee-woon. If you haven’t plunged into the wave of modern Korean revenge movies, this is as good a place to start as any. My acquaintance with the genre is limited to Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, all of which are similar in look, tone, and feel to I Saw the Devil, and two of which even share the astonishingly impressive leading man Choi Min-sik. To be brief, think of American torture-porn gorefests like Saw, but with less violence, more characterization, and—god forbid—some attempt at a larger thesis on violence in society. In this film by director Kim Jee-woon, perhaps moreso than in the Park Chan-wook films, the thesis is fairly straightforward: the pursuit of bloody vengeance can turn even the best of us into monsters. The unquestionable moral rightness of the hero, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), is drawn further and further into question as he relentlessly and methodically subjects the undeniably evil Kyung-chul (Choi) to ever more sadistic and stomach-turning degrees of torture. The ostensible moral justification for this violence—to avenge the senseless torture and murder of Soo-hyun’s pregnant fiancée—becomes more and more inadequate to justify Soo-hyun’s actions as he delves further and further away from the path of reason and develops his own thirst for inflicting pain. The film stops short of turning Soo-hyun into a true monster in my opinion. He chooses for his victims only victimizers—true psychopaths like Kyung-chul—people who seem unable to derive enjoyment out of life without brutalizing innocent people, especially young women. As much as Soo-hyun really enjoys violence—which the film doesn’t really show us either—he only wants to brutalize the guilty, never the innocent, and never for personal gratification, but in the name of some higher ideal of justice. In this sense, I feel that this film, like the Vengeance films, operates on an almost mythical level, functioning more effectively as a playing out of character types rather than as a sober look at society’s ills. Does a guy like Kyung-chul really exist? I kind of doubt it (but I still took to double checking that the front door is locked after seeing this film). As to whether this mythical quality constitutes a strength or a weakness depends on the viewer I suppose. Either way you cut it up, this is a damn good film, but definitely not for the faint of heart, or the faint of stomach.

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4 responses to “I Saw the Devil (South Korea, 2010)

  1. Pingback: The Last Stand (USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Lucy (France, 2014) | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2012 | Offhand Reviews·

  4. Pingback: The Good, the Bad, the Weird (South Korea, 2008) | Offhand Reviews·

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