There are so many things that, for lack of PC sense, the Orient had given us; pasta, dim sum, Akira, Nintendo, “The Interview,” and so much more. Speaking of Korea, the South, not the North variety, they haven’t gotten very good the past decade or so at creating outlandish and truly disturbing cinema. While I still hold Japanese horror (and no, I’m not counting J-horror) in high esteem, it’s Korean horror/revenge fare that continues to give me what I want; horrific violence, creepy characters, and satisfying endings. “I Saw The Devil” is a relentless exercise in how long you can watch without squirming in your sit or questioning why you decided to sit down and watch; and that isn’t a knock at all.
“Devil” is simple enough. The daughter of a secret agent and a police officer is brutally murdered by a nefarious serial killer. As the agent tracks the killer it leads him down a road where he will never be the same. I know it sounds melodramatic, but the since K-drama is so big these days, I thought it appropriate.
While Korean actors might not be household names, by now most people have heard of Min-sik Choi who plays the main antagonist Kyung-chul. Choi most will know from his roles in “Oldboy” “Lady Vengeance” and the upcoming Luc Besson flick “Lucy.” Like he does in “Oldboy” Choi does a balancing act of mania and composure and he might be the most memorable on-screen serial killer since John Doe in “Se7en.”
One complaint many people might bring up is the lack or character development and/or plot. I agree on the way the characters are handled, and I didn’t really figure out that the protagonist Kim Soo-hyeon, played by Byung-hun Lee, was a secret agent until I read the film’s synopsis afterwards. It made sense since he was very good at hand-to-hand combat and had an array of gadgets, but it was still generally vague for the most part. Being this is a foreign film, I’m sure a few things were lost in translation for me.
Another thing that might seem off to most people not familiar with the Korean Revenge Drama genre is the motive of the killer and the relentless violence that is seen throughout the film. The violence is brutal and it does go a little over the top in some scenes. Being a gore-hound, it really doesn’t bother me too much, but even I, a believer in ultra-violence, found myself saying under my breathe “…..jesus.” There is also a lot of violence against women in “Devil,” including an attempted rape, who seems to be an underage girl. That might be enough to make people pump the breaks as well.
However, outside of the violence, and the simplistic narrative, the performances, direction and production design are fantastic. The atmosphere is eerie, and there is a haunted house feel throughout that never quite relents. Along with the atmosphere, the sense of dread is incredible and adds to the unease of “Devil.” Bottom line, it’s a horror film without being a horror film.
“Devil” is a must-see if you’re into either horror films, splatter films, or serial killer films. If you’ve seen “The Vengeance Trilogy” from Chan-wook Park, and can handle the type of blood-letting you might have seen in a Takashi Miike film, “I Saw The Devil” is right up alley.
Fun Fact: The surnames of Kim, Park, and Lee account for nearly 50% of all Korean surname.