I Saw the Devil (2010)
By: Stuart Giesel on May 14, 2012  | 
Beyond | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Korean DD 5.1 | 141 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Jee-woon Kim
Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Cheon
Screenplay: Hoon-jung Park
Country: South Korea
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It seems that the South Koreans are for revenge and crime films what the French currently are for horror - i.e. unapologetically violent, balls-to-the-wall batshit insane and making better stuff than almost anywhere else. Following on from Park Chan-Wook's Revenge trilogy (or what I like to label as "The Best Cinematic Trilogy Ever, Yes, Even Better Than The Original Star Wars films") comes another blood-soaked, bleak tale of vengeance, and whilst it's not quite up there with Oldboy, it comes damn close.

A young pregnant woman is killed by deranged and seemingly unstoppable serial killer Kyung-chul (Oldboy's Choi Min-sik), just another victim of many. Unfortunately for Kyung-chul, her fiance Kim Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is a secret service agent, who completely loses the plot and decides to track down his girlfriend's killer. So far, nothing we haven't seen before in a serial killer pic. But then Soo-hyun goes all-out in his quest for revenge, not satisfied with simply killing the bastard. He doggedly tracks Kyung-chul using the tools and training of his profession, and at risk of not giving too much away, essentially "cock-blocks" him. But it soon becomes clear that he's underestimated what depraved lengths Kyung-chul can sink to.

Superbly directed by Kim Jee-woon, who gave us the bloody and stylish A Bittersweet Life, I Saw The Devil is breathtakingly, shockingly violent, even for one as jaded and desensitised as I. The camera lovingly lingers on bloody wounds, stabbings, beatings and all sorts of atrocities. The film is also beautifully shot, so it's quite unsettling to have stunning scenic images amongst all the carnage. And what carnage! I Saw the Devil seems to paint every second character as either a serial killer or a cannibal or God-knows what, as if South Korea is a hellhole of depravity, torture, despair and Starcraft players.

The acting is uniformly excellent. Choi Min-sik, so memorable in Oldboy, plays one of the nastiest screen villains in recent memory, a man whose moral compass raped his sense of decency long ago. He's not just a man without a sense of decency or any shred of humanity; he's a demon trapped in human form, unable to be rationalised or bargained with. Lee Byung-hun, who almost looks like he belongs in a South Korean boy band rather than in a grimy, gore-stuffed crime pic, proves just as strong a screen presence, and certainly his character has more ethical considerations and dilemmas than Min-sik's. Cooly confident in his kick-arse abilities from his years as an agent, he thinks he can take the serial killer Kyung-chul on, but it isn't long before the character realises he's out of his depth, and that he's effectively unleashed a monster (or, to be more accurate, even more of a monster than when the film began).

Less clinical than the equally-as-good Memories of Murder and less concerned with making a point about the pointlessness of violence and revenge than the Vengeance trilogy, there are still precious few moments granted to the viewer as a reprieve from all the nihilism. And just when you think Choi Min-sik threatens to give his serial killer an ounce of humanity through a gesture or a smile or an action, you're thwarted, because time and time again he proves himself to be a soulless mixture of Norman Bates, Joe Pesci's unhinged Goodfellas or Casino mobster and the Terminator. He threatens people for the most miniscule of reasons - witness the scene where he visits a clinic and not only emasculates the doctor, but takes the opportunity to brutalise a poor nurse. He's a monster and a sexual deviate, pure and simple, unable to feel anything but the power he exerts over those who are weaker than him. Most other actors would want to take a moment to show the audience that despite all the horrors he causes, there is still a shred of humanity left in him - perhaps a wink to the audience. No chance here. It's like if we had a nastier version of Silence of the Lambs where Anthony Hopkins decided that Hannibal Lecter was too much of a softie in the original script, so he spent the entire film wearing Jodie Foster's skin whilst running around abusing not only Catherine Martin (the kidnapped girl) in Buffalo Bill's well, but Buffalo Bill and Precious the dog as well, just because they were there.

Don't look for too much logic. This is the sort of crime film where police are always seven steps behind and when they actually end up in the right place at the right time prove themselves to be about as useful as an icecream to hold up a convenience store, where every second character is a demented killer, where if the events of I Saw the Devil are a reflection of what's going on in South Korea in real life then the entire population would be wiped out in a matter of months. Just accept the delirious proposition and let the film grab you by the tonsils (or if you don't have them, some other tender part of your body) and drag you into a gore-spattered world of retribution-gone-mad.

Ultimately it's not a movie that will work for everyone - I Saw the Devil will be too brutal, too unflinching and too pessimistic for many. But for those who are turning more and more to the offers provided by countries like South Korea for brilliantly shot, unsparing films, I Saw The Devil is one of the best examples of the revenge genre to come our way in many years.
I Saw The Devil is a beautiful film. You wouldn't expect it from a movie about serial killers, and people turning into serial killers, and half the population of South Korea acting like serial killers, but the film is stunningly shot, with a strong use of colour. In that way, it's much like Park Chan-wook's third film in the Vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Like Lady Vengeance, Devil juxtaposes sublime, snow-bound images with shocking splashes of blood, and the eye-popping use of colour in other ways brings an odd beauty to what is otherwise the most brutal of scenarios. The picture quality on the local DVD release is excellent, though obviously lacking the sharpness and detail of the overseas Blu-Ray releases. Still, this is a most commendable transfer.
There are two audio options for I Saw The Devil, a Dolby 5.1 track and a Stereo 2.0 track, both in the original Korean dialogue track with (burned-in) English subtitles. Obviously the 5.1 track is preferable, providing strong atmosphere and amping up the often squelchy, gut-churning sound effects. The English subtitles are quite well done and easy to read.
Extra Features
Unfortunately the local release of I Saw The Devil is bare-bones only, with no extra features to speak of. The US Blu-Ray has obviously far better audio and video quality, and it also has deleted scenes and a behind the scenes feature that could easily have made its way onto our local release. Also, there are two different cuts of I Saw The Devil out there: the international cut (which is the version we get on this disc) which is more violent, and the South Korean cut which has a few altered scenes and a sex scene. Apparently the international cut that we have is the director's preferred version, but it would have been nice to have both versions included.

So unless you can find the local DVD at a cheap price, I'd stick with the US DVD or Blu-Ray if you have the right equipment to play it.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I Saw The Devil reaffirms South Korea as the place to go for unashamedly brutal, bleak crime and revenge tales. Fueled by outstanding performances from its two leads, a glorious visual style and some truly wince-inducing moments of violence, it's another terrific film from a director who's threatening Park Chan-Wook as South Korea's number one auteur of cinematic style and bloodshed. It stands proudly alongside the best of its South Korean revenge film counterparts Memories of Murder and the Vengeance trilogy. The local DVD release offers a strong picture but lacks the extras of other versions. Still, the movie is a winner and comes highly recommended provided you can stomach the violence.

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