I Saw the Devil

Genki J I Saw the Devil Review Banner

I Saw the Devil                                           I Saw the Devil Film Poster

Hangul: 악마를 보았다

Romanisation: Akmareul Boattda

Release Date: August 11th 2010 (South Korea)

Running Time: 141 mins.

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Writer: Park Hoon-Jung

Starring: Lee Byung-Hun, Choi Min-Sik, Jeon Kuk-Hwan, On San-Ha, Kim Yun-Seo, Cheon Ho-Jin, Choi Moo-Sung. Kim In-Seo, Jo Duk-Je,

I Saw the Devil came out in the same year as The Man from Nowhere. Both feature protagonists with special-forces backgrounds clashing with evil criminals, killing many people in quests for revenge. Imagine James Bond (the Daniel Craig version) chasing Hannibal Lecter. So, hardly an original idea but then the director has a knack for bringing a refreshing spin on things. Here he bolts on a twisted revenge narrative powered by two great physical performances.

It is a dark snow-choked night and a woman named Ju-Yeon (Oh San-Ha) is stuck in her car has which has broken down on a lonely road just outside Seoul. She is talking to her fiancée Soo-Hyun (Lee Byung-Hun) on her mobile phone. He is an agent for the National Intelligence Agency and is working but wants to stay on the phone until a tow-truck appears. Their conversation is interrupted when a stranger named Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-Sik) pulls up in his yellow van and offers to help but Ju-Yeon is wary and Soo-Hyun advises her to stay in the car. Ju-Yeon tells Kyung-Chul she will wait for the tow-truck. He reluctantly disappears. Before he attacks Ju-Yeon. A few days later Ju-Yeon’s mutilated body is found in a river. Soo-Hyun is devastated and feels guilty. At the funeral Soo-Hyun says, “Forgive me Ju-Yeon. I promise you this, I will make him pay.” This sparks in motion a brutal game of revenge as Soo-Hyun stalks Kyung-Chul but things soon spiral out of control. 

Kim Jee-Woon brings his genre tweaking skills and high gloss attitude to everything he films. Here he turns the serial killer genre on its head by questioning notions of revenge and the psychological toll taken on those who are both pursued and pursuer. Like the best serial killer films, it feels less like an elaborate game (The Silence of the Lambs) and more like a questioning of how deep emotions and environmental factors affect us (Cure: The Power of Suggestion, Angel Dust). How casual misogyny, economic disenfranchisement and the heavy atmosphere of violence warps people.

I Saw the Devil becomes disturbing and exciting because of the emotions involved and the evolving characters. Watching the merciless and brutal game of catch and release becomes gruelling as the hatred and pain both men feel and inflict dehumanises them and questions the audience’s love of such movie narratives.

I Saw the Devil Soo-Hyun (Lee Byung-Hun) Monitors His Prey

Continue reading “I Saw the Devil”

The Last Stand Trailer

The Last Stand                                                                             The Last Stand Movie Poster

Release Date: 18th January 2013 (US)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Writer: George Nolfi, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, Andrew Knauer

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest whitaker, Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton, Rodrigo Santoro, Genesis Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville,

While I only review American films on this blog if they have impressed me enough there are a number of Japanese and Korean directors working in Hollywood right now and so I post trailers for their projects. Right now Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On franchise, Reincarnation) is putting the finishing touches on 7500 (following the demise of the production company behind it, when that will get a release I have no idea) while Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, J.S.A.) is handling Stoker. Kim Jee-Woon looks set to deliver the biggest blockbuster of the bunch in the form The Last Stand starring action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) was once in the LAPD but after a police operation goes badly wrong he leaves to become the sheriff of a quiet town named Sommerton Junction which is on the border with Mexico. Just when he thought he was free Owens is soon forced back into the thick of the action when an infamous drug baron escapes the FBI and makes a dash for the border. Owens will join forces with FBI agents Bannister (Whitaker) and Richards (Rodriguez) as they aim to stop the bad guy.

So this is a classic action film the likes of which propelled Scwarzenegger to fame. I actually enjoyed some of his films like True Lies but the real draw for me is Kim Jee-Woon. I have reviewed two of his films so far – The Quiet Family, A Bittersweet Life – and need to review the others I have seen (although the prospect of re-watching The Good, the Bad, the Weird leaves me feeling tired…).  The trailer looks pretty awesome – he is bringing his post-modern take on films to Hollywood. My only reservation is that Kim Jee-Woon is not writing. That job is being handled by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (The Day After Tomorrow), Andrew Knauer and George Nolfi (co-writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and the writer and director of The Adjustment Bureau). Not bad but not brilliant. What does look good is the cast which includes top veteran actors like Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog, The Last King of Scotland), Luis Guzman (Magnolia, Snake Eyes), Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, Repo Man) and Peter Stormare (Fargo).

A Bittersweet Life

A Bittersweet Life Review Header

A Bittersweet Life                                                         A Bittersweet Life Movie Poster

Release Date: 01st April 2005 (South Korea)

Running Time: 120 mins.

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Writer: Kim Jee-Woon  

Starring: Lee Byung-Hun, Shin Min-A, Kim Yeong-Cheol, Hwang Jung-Min, Kim Roe-Ha, Lee Gi-Yeong, Jin Goo, Kim Hae-Gon, Eric (Moon Jung-Hyuk)

Kim Jee-Woon’s (The Quiet Family) filmography is packed with so many great titles made in such a short space of time it can only be explained by a Faustian pact or sheer brilliance and mastery of genre conventions. A Bittersweet Life is another masterpiece that plays with the conventions of the gangster film.

Sun-Woo (Byung-Hun) is a trusted enforcer who runs a restaurant/hotel for his boss Mr. Kang (Yeong-Cheol). The two are facing trouble from a new and sociopathic gangster named Baek (Jung-Min). Kang has other things on his mind such as his three day trip to Shanghai and the possibility that his young girlfriend Hee-Soo (Min-A) may be seeing a younger man. He sends Sun-Woo to watch over her. Sun-Woo is wary but goes ahead with the job. He was right to be wary because Hee-Soo and the world she inhabits charm Sun-Woo and open his eyes to the desolation of his life. This leads to his cool persona fragmenting under moments of weakness which will place him on the hit list of both his boss and Baek and leave Sun-Woo standing alone.

Life means nothing

Like the protagonists of neo-noir thrillers Drive and Le Samourai, Sun-Woo exists in a macho and nihilistic criminal underworld which demands a person subsumes their existence into their role/organisation and follow harsh rules. Similar to those films, when a girl enters the story the protagonist is forced to make a choice between adhering to those rules or being authentic to himself and breaking them to be with her. What A Bittersweet Life does brilliantly is to display Sun-Woo’s existential self-questioning of his place in the world.

Sun-Woo Contemplates his Existence in A Bittersweet Life

Sun-Woo is just one ego among many in his gang. What separates him is the degree of rigid self-control and awareness he possesses. Through these attributes he has cultivated the social-mask of reliable enforcer which has made him indispensable to his boss who treats him as a confidant.

Continue reading “A Bittersweet Life”