Fantastic Fest 2010: I SAW THE DEVIL Review

     October 2, 2010

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If you knew how to track down a sadistic serial killer who had offed your fiancé, would you take your time to enact revenge or would you simply murder that person? Would you even bother to turn him in? That’s the basic premise of director Ji-woon Kim’s excellent and disturbing I Saw The Devil, which takes revenge to a sadistic new level and shows the sad results of such actions. Acted with little to no remorse, this gut-wrenching and violent thriller will have you on the edge of your seat for most of the second and third act, with a flourish of an ending that shows some true heart and why the battle between good and evil isn’t always black and white. Hit the jump for my full review.

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We start with a sadistic murderer Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) who offs the young fiancé of special agent Joo-yeon (Byung-hun Lee) in brutal fashion, chopping her to bits and floating her down the river. When her body is found, Joo-yeon starts to crack inside and decides to hunt down the four suspects to find his beloved’s killer. However, once he finds Hyung-chul, he goes a step beyond and implants a GPS and microphone so he can truly doll out revenge that equals his own sorrow. Joo-yeon soon finds he is falling down a familiar hole of becoming a monster in time, but will he stop in time to realize the error of his ways or will he unleash a monster that will tear apart what little he has left?

We have all seen cat-and-mouse games, but never have the two sides been this equally matched. Additionally, it’s not often that one has rigged the game with a GPS device so he can track down the murderer at will. However, he doesn’t murder Kyung-chul; instead, he plays with his prey, much like the killer, and then sets him free again. There is a cruel experiment of one-upmanship that seems to be testing if the killer will reform or not. Predictably, he never does, and Joo-yeon intervenes in the nick of time to save the killer’s potential victims, though it isn’t a perfect system. The other wrinkle is the severe violence that is dished out by killer and hero alike, always getting the right reaction out of the audience (shock) while never going completely overboard; the violence has a purpose, which stands as a warning of the cruelties man can deliver upon other men (or women). For revenge or otherwise, it’s never something fun to watch, but it is affecting.

i_saw_the_devil_image_01The saddest thing about the cut we were treated to at Fantastic Fest is that this film, as is, won’t likely see U.S. theatrical release, in my opinion. However, and you may have heard me tell this story already, Tim League, co-founder of Fantastic Fest, said that Magnet Releasing isn’t afraid to release an unrated version in theaters. I do hope that is the case, because while incredibly dark and violent, this film should be seen for the brilliant piece of cinema it is. Hypnotic is a word that simply isn’t enough here; even if you shy away from violence, you will quickly look back at the screen because the film is so riveting and you care about Joo-yeon. Here is a man that works hard and loves his family, who had everything broken in a single night and snaps in his quest for revenge.

I Saw The Devil is a tale of catch-and-release revenge that has disastrous consequences for everyone involved. “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster,” Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote. “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Expertly filmed and acted, with a number of wildly entertaining fights and scuffles that leave a bloody mess in their wake, I Saw The Devil is a cautionary tale of revenge that has heart and enough violence to make a bold statement that works. If you can stomach the violence and are looking for something beyond your run-of-the-mill thriller, I cannot recommend this enough. As soon as we know a firm release date for I Saw The Devil, we will let you know.

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