Director – Jee-woon Kim
Cast – Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Jeon, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim
Release Year – 2011(US)
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I Saw The Devil was one of the most talked about horror films of 2011 – coming from A Tale of Two Sisters director Jee-Woon Kim and returning Byung-hun Lee(Three…Extremes, J.S.A.: Joint Security Area) from self-imposed exile to give us another South Korean masterpiece of horror – in this case vengeance-themed. Adorned with numerous scenes of outright maniacal torture, I Saw The Devil is not a film you will soon forget thanks to an expertly written yet simple tale that comes well-executed and beautifully shot. This is not only one of the most awesome tales of revenge I have ever seen, but results in one of the most horrific horror films of 2011 as well as one of the best so far this decade.
When his pregnant fiance is brutally tortured and dismembered by a long-time serial killer, Special Agent Kim Soo-hyeon(Byung-hun Lee) sets out on a quest for vengeance to avenge her suffering – fully aware of the monster he must become to give the killer(Min-sik Choi; Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) a taste of his own medicine.
This may be the vengeance films for all vengeance films thanks to the incredible screenplay provided by writer Hoon-jung Park in his writing debut – a feat I still cannot fathom given how great this story is. The opening sequence throws us headstrong into the experience as we watch Agent Kim’s fiance killed in brutal fashion, followed by the news hitting Kim and his former future father in law. It does not take long before Kim vows to her father that he will exact vengeance against her killer, and from then on out we are given two hours of non-stop vengeance-fueled carnage at the hands of a man who lost the most important thing in his life. After locating her killer, Kyung Chul, Agent Kim begins his descent into horror by subjecting him to cruel torture, and then employs a few unique gadgets loaned to him by a friend at his agency. What are the gadgets for? They are used to track the killer. Why would he want to do that? The answer is simple: to keep beating the hell out of and torturing her killer over and over again. We witness Agent Kim get his revenge on the killer, let him go, then catch him again and subject him to even more torture than before, then let him go, and so on and so on. I had never before seen a film employ such a tactic and I found it supremely awesome and the biggest reason behind my belief that this has to be possibly the greatest revenge tale I have ever seen (in regards to the revenge element). It is during these sequences that we see Agent Kim become the monster he has to be to avenge his fiance, and this brought forth one of my favorite scenes in the film: one of Kim’s close female friends begs him to halt his reign of terror and realize that doing what he does will never bring his fiance back. His response is everything that I wanted it to be – he brushed her off and continued his vow of vengeance. One element that did surprise me was the fact that the killer never gave up on fighting back against Agent Kim despite getting his arse severely beat on numerous occasions. He manages to get back at Agent Kim in brutal fashion as well, and doing so not by going after Kim himself but those he loves. I mean, c’mon, this really would have been a boring effort had the duel been one-sided right? Coming in at just under 2 ½ hours, this story paces beautifully and never once lost my interest thanks to a lack of needless scenes that do little to move film. The film does slow down at times, but engaging material kept my attention throughout. While simple overall, Hoon-jung Park’s story is mean, brutal, and very enjoyable for those who enjoy vengeance in films, and complimented with a fantastic and very satisfying finish we are given possibly the best vengeance film of all time.
Director Jee-woon Kim was his usual awesome self, giving us a superbly executed film adorned with beautiful visuals, engaging camerawork, great acting performances, and most importantly…good horror. Jee-woon Kim leaves little to be deciphered as he gives us a full-frontal show of everything going on, showing no haste even during the film’s most chaotic sequences involving Agent Kim severing some very important tendons belonging to a now defunct killer still aiming to get back at Kim for what he’s done. The numerous torture and kill sequences are hard to watch at times and make up for all of the horror in the film, and Mr. Kim throws in enough gore in all the right places to add to our enjoyment. This was not an overly gory film as are most Asian revenge flicks, but I found the gore to still be abundant and used in a pretty classy fashion for the type of film this is. We are given excellent performances from each of the actors involved, with Byung-hun Lee and Min-sik Choi stealing the show as Agent Kim and the killer, Kyung-chul. Choi was diabilical as the killer and brought for an excellent mix of both patience and madness in one character, and Lee was his usual badass self who let his character’s reservations go and gave us an all-out bloody affair in this fantastic experience of vengeance-themed horror.
Overall, I Saw The Devil is one of the best films of 2011 and a definite “must-see” for horror fans. From start to finish this long experience takes us for a ride you will not soon forget as we stroll along a blood-filled path of vengeance unlike any I have ever seen.