I Saw the Devil



Directed by

Jee-woon Kim




Written by

Hoon-jung Park




Release Date

March 4, 2011 (USA) (Limited)










Byung-hun Lee

Min-sik Choi

Gook-hwan Jeon

A critique by Andrew Abraido



I saw a great film.


As is customary for many of the critical written works I whip up for films I see, the journey to how I discovered the film at the focus of the discussion is important for me to divulge. Some films get wide releases, others are barely even known to exist and get very little press...it's the nature of the industry. I first found out about I Saw the Devil when I was away on business in Houston. One night, I made my way to the city's indiest theatre (I think), the legendary (maybe?) River Oaks Theater to catch a screening of Barney's Version (the eleventh film on my annual Top 10 Films list for 2010). Upon arriving at the theater, there was a flyer for this film called I Saw the Devil. The title immediately intrigued me, as did the gritty photography featured on the flyer. Unfortunately, the film began screening a few weeks after I was to leave the city, and hoped to perhaps catch it screening back in New York. The week-long release came and went at the IFC Center (amazing theater by the way), and I was unable to coordinate my schedule to see the film. I was disappointed, but knew that it would probably be released on DVD rather quickly given the brevity of its theatrical run. Sure enough, the DVD was released at the end of May, and streaming on Netflix a few weeks later (I'll save my pro-Netflix rant for another space).


Anyway, enough babble about the discovery process and onto the film.


I Saw the Devil, directed by budding Korean visionary Jee-woon Kim, is a tale of revenge. When the calculating and ruthless serial killer Kyung-chul takes the life of a young woman with child, her fiancé becomes hellbent on making Kyung-chul pay for his sin(s), but just how far will he go? This is the question the film is built upon, and the answer, in short, is certainly far enough. Enter Kim Soo-hyeon (played by Byung-hun Lee, who I have previously seen in Chan-wook Park's segment in the AMAZING triple feature Three Extremes). Here, Soo-hyeon plays a "secret agent", who's more bodyguard than Bond, but still has a lot of physical and technological tools at his disposal. In the wake of his grief, he plays the hunter to Kyung-chul's prey in a cat and mouse game for the ages. Without spoiling too much, Soo-hyeon makes it his mission to inflict as much pain on Kyung-chul as possible, and the journey to the remarkably ironic finale of the film is a blast.


I was expecting a much darker tone to the film the way I had seen it advertised, but the film, though quite dark in theme, certainly had some quirky moments and never really took itself too seriously. For some films, I would be disappointed with this approach, but it works perfectly here. The violence alternates from the brutal to the slapstick (Home Alone, anyone?) to the stylized martial-artistic, but overall it's so over-the-top and gratuitous that you can't help but have a smile on your face (that is, if you have as twisted of a cinematic psyche as I do). The tone of the film is hard to nail down specifically (it's not campy, it's not parody, it's not too serious), but regardless of whatever particular classification you would like to bestow upon the film, it is a downright entertaining and refreshing experience.


The cinematography is noteworthy in this film as well. From the ironic opening shot in Kyung-chul's vehicle to the dizzying, Children of Men-esque taxi knife fight, the creative shots sprinkled throughout the narrative added to the fun. Though certainly not for the faint of heart (especially anyone who has a problem watching heads being bludgeoned many, many, many times) I Saw the Devil is a grand ol' time for fans of witty thrillers bordering on the ultra-violent.



Bottom Line: 4.0/5.0