Review: I Saw the Devil (2010)
When you type "Korean revenge film" into your search bar, you're bound to see Oldboy and I Saw the Devil as top results. Because I love Korean revenge cinema (especially Oldboy), I decided to give I Saw the Devil a try. Spoilers for the ending ahead!
Directed by Kim Jee-woon, I Saw the Devil stars Lee Byung-hun as Kim Soo-hyun, a secret agent, and Choi Min-sik as Jang Kyung-chul, a psychopath who brutally killed Kim's fiance. When Kim discovers that Jang committed the murder, Kim tortures him and lets him go repeatedly to make him suffer as much as possible.
The film had an interesting premise and lots of intense moments; I also enjoyed most of the action scenes and noted some nice cinematography and great acting. However, I noticed several problems and though I'm glad I watched the film for the experience, I wouldn't put it at the top of my list of Korean revenge films.
There were many intense and gory scenes, but most of them seemed to be just for shock value. The plot itself wasn't loaded with substance, and the pacing in the first half of the film actually seemed a bit slow.
At the end of the film, Jang is decapitated after his innocent family opens the door to see him. Kim does this as the ultimate act of revenge because it strikes fear and desperation in Jang. As Kim walks away from the scene, he breaks down, somewhat laughing yet deeply in pain. This is supposed to represent that his quest for revenge is futile, as he has become a monster. Though I see that perspective, I'd also argue that the protagonist hasn't changed much throughout the film.
Aside from the beginning where Kim is talking sweetly to his fiance on the phone, there isn't much reason to like him. His methods are already unconventional - bashing a suspect's balls, for instance, or hitting a suspect with a car. From the moment he discovered the killer, he formed his catch and release torture plan. There was also the moment where he was forced to help out a dying pharmaceutical worker. That may add bonus points to his character, but I don't think they're earned. He barely helped out the high schooler who was almost raped, or the nurse that was assaulted. I feel like the ending would have been much more powerful if Kim was shown to be more different in the beginning and then slowly descend into madness.
There wasn't much depth to Jang, the antagonist, either. We don't get a good enough explanation for why he does what he does. His actions mostly amount to just shock value.
As for other things I noticed, there were a couple shots where it stayed on the scene for too long for seemingly no reason. The music also wasn't very memorable when I watched it, though a couple songs were pretty good when I heard them separately.
The plot gets a bit ridiculous at times. Jang stumbles across two thieves/killers in a taxi, so he kills them (and discovers the dead, real taxi driver in the trunk). It is very well-filmed and somewhat entertaining, but it doesn't really impact the story. Then Jang goes to his friend's house. Surprise! The friend is a killer too, and a cannibal. There's also the scene where Jang takes laxatives so he shits out the tracker inside him. Has he really not taken a dump before that? Ah well, plot.
Overall, I'd rate it a 5.5/10. I would watch it again if I wanted to analyze it further and/or show it to a friend, but I don't think I'd pick it up on my own. I'd love to know your thoughts on I Saw the Devil!
If you have any Korean revenge films that you want me to review, feel free to send suggestions my way!