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.