Reviewed by Kalebson
Starring Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon
Directed by Ji-woon Kim
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Closing out this year’s Sundance Film Festival with a bang from Magnet Releasing is Ji-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil. Having heard such good things in my walks around Park City, I could not resist the temptation to venture back out into the cold and get on the wait list for this two-plus-hour revenge thriller. I am so glad I did. Kim takes revenge to a whole new level as the two leads are so equal in both intelligence and skill that in the end neither has an advantage over the other.
Packed as it is with gratuitous violence, torture and enough body parts to fill a dump truck one can understand why South Korean censors are demanding some major cuts in I Saw the Devil. It is my understanding, however, that Magnet is releasing it Stateside, and we will have the pleasure of the director’s cut in all its gruesome glory.
Warning — Mild spoilers follow so if you’re not into learning the details of the plot, you may want to skip the next four paragraphs.
The film is centered on Korean secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), who is seeking revenge for the death of his pregnant fiancée, Joo-yeon (San-ha Oh). Kim wastes no time getting into the thick of it as this occurs just moments from the start. We find Joo-yeon sitting in her car on the side of the road with a flat tire talking to Soo-hyeon on the phone. A man, Kyung-chul (Oldboy‘s Min-sik Choi), driving a school van (seriously, he drives children for a living) stops to ask if she needs assistance. She informs him she already has a tow truck on the way, but he takes it upon himself to check the flat tire against her wishes. After telling him repeatedly that she would rather wait for the tow truck, the strange man heads back to his van, only to return seconds later wielding a hammer. After bashing her in the skull repeatedly, he takes her to a makeshift torture chamber that resembles a small slaughterhouse.
She awakens in a body bag, naked of course, to find her assailant preparing to disassemble her in the proper order of dismemberment: arms, legs and then head. She pleads with the maniac to spare her life, telling him she is pregnant. Kyung-chul gives her the blankest of stares for what seems like an eternity and then slams the cleaver into her bare flesh. Once finished with his bloody mutilation, he dumps her parts in a nearby river. The following day two kids walking in a field near the river find a plastic bag revealing an ear.
Joo-yeon, being the daughter of retired Squad Chief Jang (Gook-hwan Jeon), spawns a huge search of the river by what appears to be the entire police squad. During the search a head is discovered, causing undeniable grief to both Soo-hyeon and Jang. Following the funeral Soo-hyeon announces that he will be taking two weeks off in order to properly mourn her passing, but he has ulterior motives. With the help of a fellow agent he acquires a “capsule-like” GPS tracking pill and receiver unit and from Jang a list of probable suspects to seek out from previous murder cases. After torturing and questioning the first two and then beating them to a bloody pulp, he sets out to find the third suspect. BINGO! Once he knows that Kyung-chul is the man responsible, he sets forth to keep his promise to his dead fiancée to inflict 10,000 times more suffering on him than she went through.
After inflicting some serious damage to Kyung-chul, Soo-hyeon forces the tracking device down his throat, throws him in a hole and gives him, of all things, an envelope full of money … WHAT?!?! Soo-hyeon keeps track of Kyung-chul, constantly making sure that he is ready any time Kyung-chul is up to no good, just for the sake of delivering more punishment in pure twisted catch-and-release style. But will he be able to keep the upper hand?
Director Kim does a fantastic job of mixing all the emotion and horror together. Every performance in this masterpiece is outstanding, if not perfect. There is definitely no limit in Kim’s mind when it comes to brutality in any fashion as this no-holds-barred battle of good vs. evil rears its ugly head from the very start. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the editing is flawless.
The fight choreography is very well done and includes everything from mixed martial arts to outright street brawling. The score is powerful and deliberately placed in every necessary scene but unlike in some features does not overwhelm the audience to the point that it takes away from the film.
In my opinion, from all that I saw with my own eyes, this may have well been the best thing to come out of Sundance this year. I enjoyed the entire two-hour and twenty-one-minute runtime. My only hope is that they get a slightly better subtitle set for the US release; there were quite a few misspellings and phrases that didn’t make much sense, making me think that maybe they threw these subtitles together pretty quickly for an American audience. This really has little impact on the film itself though as you cannot mistake what is going on.
I Saw the Devil is a must see for anyone in the genre that loves sadistically violent films! This flick puts anything that I can think of in recent history that’s similar in theme to shame.
4 1/2 out of 5
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