I Saw the Devil opens up with a young woman stuck in snow on the side of a road with very little traffic. A man offers help, she declines, but he “helps” anyway. Soon after, the man smashes her windows and ruthlessly beats her. This sets the pace for the rest of the film. What follows is a lot of action, a lot of blood, and a lot of scenes not meant for the squeamish. Yet, unlike some films, there is more going on here than just senseless acts of violence.

Soo-Hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is a secret agent. When his wife becomes the latest victim of a notorious serial killer, he decides to take the law into his own hands. He tracks down the possible suspects, torturing them until they confess to their crimes, but his main target becomes Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), by far the worst of the killers and the most formidable of Hyun’s foes. As it turns out, Kyung-chul is the killer of Soo-Hyun’s wife. However, killing Kyung-chul isn’t enough for Soo-Hyun. He wants to make Kyung-chul pay for all of his past murders. Soo-Hyun wants Kyung-chul to really feel like a victim, to go from the hunter to the hunted.

Revenge movies are nothing new. Choi Min-sik is no stranger to them either, as he played Dae-su in the popular Korean film Oldboy. Yet, I Saw the Devil feels fresh and is exciting throughout. The basic premise of a man wanting to hunt down and kill his wife’s killer is pretty basic. However, when this man is a secret agent and wants more than to just kill, it becomes more interesting. Soo-Hyun has several opportunities to murder Kyung-chul, but it’s never enough. He lets him go so he can continue the chase. The film gets even more interesting when Kyung-chul takes the upper hand. He is a resourceful psychopath and soon he is out for some of his own revenge on Soo-Hyun. The motive of revenge continually builds up on both sides, and even at the end, it isn’t clear who comes out on top.

Monster-like behavior is a major theme of the movie. With the death of his wife, and his subsequent spree of violence, it seems Soo-Hyun is turning into a monster. His methods are highly illegal and his motives are often selfish. His actions start to put others in danger, but he can’t undo what he started. However, throughout Soo-Hyun retains human emotions. He is sometimes fearful, but more importantly, he often shows sadness for his wife’s death and the other behavior he witnesses. His quest is to overcome his grief, to make Kyung-chul pay for his actions and feel like his victims. But this task is somewhat impossible. Kyung-chul is as close to pure evil as a human can get, a true monster. Even when he doesn’t have the upper hand, Kyung-chul shows no remorse for his actions.

This use of a purely evil character works in Devil, this is largely due to the acting of Choi Min-sik. Not only is Choi Min-sik one of Korea’s greatest current actors, but he is one of the greatest actors right now, period. He is utterly convincing as an absolutely crazy man. Throughout the film, he possesses the ability to change from a convincingly creepy, but seemingly normal person, to a maniac within seconds. Anybody in the film who witnesses this change is caught in fear of what Choi Min-sik’s character might do next. It is one of the most convincing portrayals of a serial killer ever caught on film.

This film is definitely not for the faint of heart, it makes Tarantino look like Sesame Street. It’s a shame that some won’t be able to stomach the violence because it truly is a great movie. There are probably films with more violence than Devil, but this is one of the bloodiest and most ruthless films out there. There are serial murders, fights with extreme violence, random killings, cannibalism, and inventive acts of torture.
Yet, with all this violence, the film never loses sight of the gross nature of murder and torture. There are flashes of dark humor, but for the most part, the bloody scenes are meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Unlike the comic book feel of Kim Ji-woon’s fun Western, The Good, The Bad, The Weird, here Kim Ji-woon never strays from the dark and mostly realistic feel of the film. The film explores the dark side of human nature and the darkness of a man corrupted by evil. The lines between good and evil, right and wrong, are blurred. Kim Ji-woon has crafted an intelligent and highly entertaining, dark revenge film that constantly keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat.

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