If I didn't know ahead of time that I Saw the Devil was directed by South Korea's Kim Ji-woon (you may remember him as the director of such fine films as The Quiet Family, A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird), I would have bet good money that it was in fact the 4th movie in famed director Park Chan-wook's vengeance series (which includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). Kim Ji-woon pretty much NAILED Park Chan-wook's style, pacing, and gloom in his most recent cinematic spectacle, and for that I applaud him. I typically frown upon people trying to emulate other's works (especially when they're trying to copy a master such as Chan-wook), but in this case it's actually a cine-god copying another cine-god in what I'm guessing was a bet or something. I mean, Ji-woon has already proven time and again that he's got incredible talent behind the camera, why else would he feel the need to try and make a movie that looks and feels like a rival's? A drunken wager I'm guessing. But I digress.
What is I Saw the Devil aboot? Revenge. I thought I made that perfectly clear in my earlier statement that this could have been one of Chan-wook's "vengeance series" movies. Are you not paying attention this early on? There is going to be a test later, and you will FAIL, mister! The penalty for failing is me fucking your mom and making you watch. Beyond that though it's about a South Korean intelligence agency's top agent (Mr. Soo-hyun [nicknamed "Badass McGee"]) hunting down the sadistic bastard who killed his hot fiancee, gutted her, carved her into pieces, and then dumped her bits into a river. The way Soo-hyun hunts down the killer though is what makes this film so awesomely unbelievably mindblowingly jizz-all-over-your-TV epic.
So things start out with Soo-hyun's fiancee calling him while she's waiting for a tow truck after getting stranded in the boondocks at night during a snow storm. They chit-chat for a while before some local weirdo in a school van drives up and offers to help her. She respectfully declines though when it turns out that his "help" is basically him smashing her windows in with a crowbar, beating her on the head with said crowbar, and then dragging her bloody, broken body back to his secret basement butcher shop where he carves her up like a turkey on Thanksgiving, despite her pleas to let her live because of her unborn child. Yeah, he's not moved.
Soo-hyun is absolutely devastated by the discovery of his woman's body (well, her head at least) in a river near where she disappeared, but instead of turning into a puddle of whimpering pussiness, he uses all the resources available to him (via his position in the SK intelligence agency he's top dog in) in order to hunt this disturbed psychopath down and exact his own special kind of vengeance upon him. This special vengeance includes stopping the butcher (one Kyung-chul) from raping and killing another girl (this time one of the killer's students he's the bus driver to), then jumping on his left wrist, and then bashing his head open before leaving him (still alive) in the open grave he dug for the girl, with an envelope of several thousand SK won on the bastard's chest.
Kyung-chul eventually comes to, and is confused as hell about what just happened, but he takes this opportunity to book it out of Dodge before the cops can get him. During his running, Kyung-chul meets up with a lot of fucked up people (just as messed up as he himself is), but every time he tries to relax, or get frisky with another lady victim, Soo-hyun shows up and beats the shit out of him again, and gives him yet another wound that makes his travels just a bit more difficult from then on out. Unfortunately for Soo-hyun though, eventually Kyung-chul figures out the rules and the reasons, and the cat and mouse game starts going off into really psychotic and "holy shit!" directions.
And the ending, and the final question of "who really won" is not only deep, but sooooo disturbing. Shivers!
The tension in I Saw the Devil is cranked up to 12. It's indeed a "cringe horror" movie, but not for the reasons that some of the pussy movie reviewers out there claim it to be. Yeah, it does have a ton of gore and amazing torture scenes in it, but that's not what made me cringe (my tolerance for guro is disturbingly high... I scare myself sometimes). No, what really got under my skin was the game that was played between Soo-hyun and Kyung-chul. Both are very intelligent men, and one could argue that both are very fucking demented as well. Their back and forth sadistic schemings get so intense and creepy that I found I had to fight to cover my eyes not during any disembowelments or torture scenes, but during the planning bits... When the two of them are figuring out their next move, or when one is out of frame and you KNOW that they're going to do something big NOW..... or NOW. It's like Silence of the Lambs times 5. It is amazing. And I absolutely loved that no plot points were pushed forward due to stupidity. That's my biggest pet peeve in movies lately: when the director can't think of a way to get from point A to point B, so he makes one of his characters do something incredibly dumb in order to give the bad guys an escape or to put their plan in motion. Nope, not here. Both main characters are smart, and they only do smart things. True, at any given point one may outsmart the other, but it's not because the other is dumb, just that the one guy did some heavy thinking and figured something out. Groovy.
And like I alluded to above, the ending, after everything's fallen to shit, gotten sewn back together again, and collapsed into a puddle of liquid feces (sometimes quite literally) something like 3 times total... that ending still shocks you. It still makes you think, makes you HOPE they won't go there. But when two tortured genius psychopaths get this far into a match of wits and wills, well, there's just no backing down. And they do go there. 3 times in the last 20 minutes. And I applaud them for it.
Yeah. This movie was reeeeeeal fun. I just love watching a good man torture the hell out of himself over the almost satanic murder of his lovely wife. Oh, and he also tortures the hell out of the man who did the murder. But then the man who did the murder starts torturing the good man, and then the good man tortures the man who did the murder again. Good times... The best times...
No, don't be a dumbass. This movie was torturous for a person with normal to high morality standards. Nobody comes out of it unscathed, and that includes the audience.
You would have thought that this amount of mad violence and awesome ass-kickery would have been right up my alley, and I'd have said something like "Finally! A movie with so much incredible violence that it'll make you blow your load just thinking about it days later." And you'd be right. That is exactly the kind of movie this is.