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Fantastic Fest 2010 Review: I SAW THE DEVIL

J.C. De Leon

by: J.C. De Leon
September 28th, 2010

Rating: 4.5/5

Director: Ji-woon Kim
Cast: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi

Ji-Woon Kim already has one Fantastic Fest hit with his previous work THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD, and he has had an excellent follow-up to that film with A BITTERSWEET LIFE. His latest effort, I SAW THE DEVIL, is without a doubt his darkest, but still one of his greatest. It most certainly doesn't follow the same tone of any of his previous work. Violent, relentless, brutal. Those are the tamest words that can describe this film. Heartfelt, touching, and great would be the best words to describe it. Certainly not for the squeamish, but its intensity is where the story lies.

When the head of the brutally murdered wife of our main character (Byung-hun Lee) is discovered by children, the chain of events that move along the entire film begin to fall into place. The merciless serial killer (Min-sik Choi)meticulously, almost delicately, cuts up his victims in various ways, disposes of the bodies, and then searches for his next victim. No amount of begging will help their cause, there is no moral compass to appeal to. He looks directly into the eyes of his victim and proceeds to simply, kill. In the context of the film, his latest victim is the wife of a Korean Secret Service agent, one who has at his disposal the means of finding out who his wife's killer is, his past, information on his family, whatever he may need so that he can exact his revenge.

In typical Ji-woon Kim fashion, this is a story with incredibly deep layers that are pulled back ever so gently, all the while, an immensely violent tale is unfolding. What would appear to be a simple enough revenge story, Ji-woon Kim has constructed a framework of a story so intense that at times you won’t know who your rooting for. The story does follow most of the revenge story cliches, like having those closest to Lee’s character tell him that no matter what he does, it won’t bring back his wife. What I SAW THE DEVIL does differently is also show the perspective of the serial killer, while still never explaining his motivation to kill, even in situations where his own self-preservation would be better served rather than his need to be a monster to women, he can’t resist himself.

Byung-hun Lee is a staple in Ji-woon Kim’s movies, and it’s easy to see why in this role. Almost mimicking the nature of the serial killer who murdered his wife, he portrays a character that is just as, if not more meticulous. about his actions. While doing the mortifyingly violent things he is doing, he has the same almost emotionless face that so many Ji-woon Kim performances demand. Yet he executes that look so convincingly that he never seems like a character who is out for revenge. In contrast, the character of Min-sik Choi, while being equally violent, is more showing with his emotions. His performance is staggeringly good, right on par with his performance in OLDBOY.

At times I SAW THE DEVIL will feel a little long and some of beats are repetitive, but every moment is significant as they serve to develop the character since so little is known about either, especially Choi’s character. This is without a doubt going to be one of the more violent and gory movies of the year, so much so that not even the most seasoned thriller/killer movie fan will be able to resist squirming in their seat. But overall, this film is fantastic, any fan of Ji-woon Kim’s will enjoy this movie that while, not very humorous, and doesn’t have as many shootouts as his previous work, is still right on par with the quality of his resume up to this point.

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  • Scorpio

    I need this film.

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