If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about South Korean cinema in just the last few years alone, it’s that they are in a world of their own. They have ways to combine tragedy and violence into an amalgamation that almost defies genre. Humor is sprinkled into everything like salt, the horror cuts deep and goes into disturbing territory, and the pacing is always abrupt with its twists and turns. Director Jee-woon Kim has received accolades for his work due to his particular style and eye that elevate his stories into conversation-worthy pieces. Among the best of his releases stands ‘I Saw The Devil’.
‘I Saw The Devil’ tells the story of an intense serial murderer named Jang (played by Choi Min-sik of ‘Oldboy’). The film begins by showing a woman stranded on the side of a snowy road as she is sitting on the phone in her car awaiting a towtruck. Jang pulls up in a bright yellow van (which turns out to be a school van) and offers assistance, but her judgment insists that she will just wait for the tow truck. As soon as she gets off the phone call, she looks up to see Jang smashing her window in with a tire iron before he forces his way inside the vehicle and beats on her skull until she’s unconscious. She wakes up tied in a strange, grungy place as he tortures her and kills her. Her head is found floating down a river and the entire police force is out looking for her. What we now discover though is that she’s not only the daughter of the chief of police, but she’s the fiancé of a secret agent named Soo-hyeon whose Hell-bent on revenge.
The story quickly turns into a series of interrogations, investigations, and brutal fights as he goes down the list of suspects to find out who murdered his love. However, for us the viewers, he not only finds out Jang’s identity relatively quickly, but he decides that killing him isn’t a good enough revenge. Instead, he concocts the idea to continuously catch-and-release Jang like a sadistic game of hide & seek. Each time he finds him he severely beats him, slightly mutilates him, and then walks away only to find him the next day. This is all grand until he realizes that he has been severely underestimating the madness Jang contains and the deplorable depravity he exhumes everytime Soo-hyeon isn’t immediately around.
This movie is brutal and dark without going overboard. The violence is almost cartoonish in a “John Wick” sort of way, and the horror is mostly decorated behind stylized torture and shadows, but the film as a whole is beautifully achieved – it all pairs so perfectly with the mostly nocturnal winter scenery we get lost in. The music, the cinematography, the acting, the direction, the lighting.. everything about this film is excellent and pleasing in many ways. It feels like a grittier version of “Silence of the Lambs” combined with that Korean style that we’ve all come to love. We move at a neck-breaking pace up until the devastating ending where nothing is off limits and we find out just how dark someone’s soul can really be.
Who will get the last laugh? Who will shed the most blood? Who will survive in the end?
You’ll have to find out for yourself.
“I Saw The Devil” is streaming on Peacock & Vudu.
‘Til Next Time,
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