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Horror film to some, crime drama to others and gory, exploitation flick to still more. The truth about I Saw the Devil lies somewhere in between, taking the aspects of all three and turning them into the most outrageous, over the top, disturbing tale of vengeance seen in many a moon, as well as the best film Iíve yet seen  this year.

Itís every womanís nightmare; being stuck in a car with a flat tire on a deserted road.  The young driver is on her cell phone with her fiancť, a secret service agent who sings to her while she waits for a tow truck, when a stranger in a short bus stops and offers aid.  That seemingly innocuous invitation will begin the girlís fiancť and her murderer on a phantasmagoric chase, alternating their roles as cat and mouse, torturing one another until bodies pile up on both sides and they tear each other apart.

Director Kim Ji-woon has made a career of making off-beat films of great style and tremendous individuality (A Tale of Two Sisters {2003}, The Good, the Bad, the Weird {2008}).  It would take a masterís hand to attempt the amount of gore, sexual deviance and twisted brutality seen here and make it not only palatable, but brilliant.  Though painted with blood throughout, Kim never loses sight of the main moral of the story and that is the futility and ultimate self-destruction brought about by acts of violence and revenge.  The difference in those lessons is you have one character, Kyung-chul, who is so utterly corrupted that there is nothing to learn from all his nihilism, and only more chaos satisfies him.  Soo-hyun still has a soul to save, but in his pursuit of his loveís killer, he gets a taste for what Kyung-chul has experienced for years; having someone utterly at your mercy, making them less than human and he finds it intoxicating.  It goes beyond wanting to prolong Kyung-chulís suffering for his crimes, itís like a drug Soo-hyun canít shake and heíll end up paying for that jones in ways he could never expect.

Excellent performances help raise I Saw the Devil to its high level.  Lee Byung-hun, as the suffering fiancť turned avenging angel encompasses all the shock and fury of someone whoís most beloved one was horrifically brutalised at the hands of a unrepentant psychopath.  His turmoil is real and he canít stop himself, becoming less human every time he catches up to Kyung-chul and just lets him go, allowing the madman to victimise someone else.  Jeon Kuk-hwan plays Soo-hyunís would-be father-in-law, whose mournful face portrays the shame and anger this old police chief feels at having saved thousands of lives, but not being able to protect his own daughter.  I Saw the Devil marks the return to the crime genre of the man who is probably the Westís best known Korean actor, Choi Min-sik, forever famous as Park Chan-wookís Oldboy {2003}.  Choi went into a self-imposed cinematic exile in 2006, making only one drama {2008ís With a Girl of Himalaya} in all that time.  In I Saw the Devil, he lets go of all that pent-up thespian rage.  Choi bites into the film like a lion with a brisket, reveling in the filth of Kyung-chulís soul, happy to embody a truly irredeemable villain who feels justified in all his sins and simply will not stop.  Surprisingly, thereís a lot of humour in I Saw the Devil; the bumbling murder investigation is more evidence a-la Bong Joon-ho that you really donít want to depend on the Seoul police department if youíre in trouble.  The rest of the laughs come black as soot from Kyung-chul, as the raging sociopath turns the many perceived affronts by victims or soon-to-be victims into twisted comedy gold.  The scene where Kyung-chul gives himself up to police, blazing through the streets in a stolen car wearing shorts, old canvas slip-ons and a dirty trenchcoat, covered in blood while waving a huge kitchen knife in one hand and a cigarette in the other is burned on my retinas forever.  So, too, are the scenes that play like homages to Choiís magnum opus, Oldboy, particularly a vicious battle inside a taxi after Kyung-chul meets a couple of fellers who picked up the wrong degenerate to mess with.  Did we really need those loud smacking noises in both the scenes where Kyung-chul sodomises a young nurse, or as heís being hosted to a special dinner by some old friends?  Nope, but itís all part of the over-the-top cartoon nightmare Kim is spinning.  I Saw the Devil is really a youíre-in-it-or-youíre-not proposition and most definitely not for the squeamish.  Even yours truly, after years of believing I was inured to the reaches of envelopeĖpushing Asian film, found myself a little queasy when it was all over, but looking back maybe those were butterflies of joy.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 4th, 2011


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