A conversation about South Korean films today will inevitably lead to conversations about award-winning film Parasite by Bong Joon-ho. If not, then its often Oldboy that garners respect as an intense cinematic cult classic, but there needs to certainly also be more talk of another title that doesn't seem to be brought up as much as it should, and that film is the exciting revenge thriller, I Saw the Devil. Directed by Kim Jee-woon and co-starring Oldboy lead, Min-sik Choi in the role of a serial killer named Jang Kyung-chul , the film crafts an engaging story about the seeds of psychopathy and taking justice into our own hands.
On a dark and cold evening, a young lady finds herself with car problems and is approached by a man who offers her assistance. Knowing to not trust a stranger, especially in the dead of the night, the young lady declines, unfortunately not realizing that the man offering is not the kind that takes no for an answer. Breaking into the car and abducting the female driver, the violent man proceeds to take her to a mysterious location where she joins a long list of victims who died at his hands. However, unbeknownst to our serial killer, the women he murdered happened to be the fiancé of a Korean government agent, perhaps best described as the South Korean equivalent of an FBI agent. Highly distraught and enraged at these terrible turn of events, the young man named Kim Soo-hyeon decides to take matters into his own hands by tracking down his wife's killer and enacting his brand of retributive justice.
Using his investigative skills, Kim Soo-hyeon manages to come face to face with the man who had taken everything from him. But it isn't a straightforward revenge kill, the young agent instead decides to punish his wife's assailant with a brutality matched only by the prior actions of the man who finds himself on the end of Kim's rage-filled fists. Always avoiding the killing blow, Kim Soo-hyeon fits his psychopath with a tracking device before casting him out into the world to simply be tracked down and beaten up time and time again. Jang Kyung-chul's punishment is meant to fit his numerous crimes, his status as the hunter turned on its head for him to experience being the hunted. But as time goes on, there seems to come a troubling side effect from this method of revenge, Kim Soo-hyeon's grief and anger and the actions that are driven by them put him in danger of corrupting his very being and degenerating into what he hates. He also seems to underestimate the arrogance and resilience of his quarry, he fails to realize that the inability to take seriously the consequences of one's actions and the complete lack of demonstrative remorse and empathy are the hallmarks of any psychopath, and more specifically in the one that he decides to go toe to toe with. It's this that necessitates the need to go deeper than mere violence, but to plunge into to dark depths that often offer little to no means of ascending back into the light.
Jang Kyung-chul does not give in to fear or even on some level believe that this is a fitting comeuppance for his past sins, but instead eventually immerses himself into the game that Kim has decided to create. The film is a gripping game of cat and mouse where two equally dangerous men use the various skills and resources available to them to get a leg up over the other. The suspense-laden series of events leaves audiences constantly wondering where the next attack will come from, how Jang will react to them, and how each individual will enact their respective strategies. I Saw the Devil is a good film that does things a little differently than most. The serial killer, in this case, is not some impossible to find entity that toys with his victims, but on the contrary becomes the victim himself that ends up being toyed with. The film explores the antecedent causes that make a person throw the rule book out of the window, but additionally, the film also causes reflection on the parts of audience members that differentiates approval or disgusts for specific actions.
Audiences watching the film may ashamedly find themselves rooting for Kim, cheering on the beat downs like blood thirty spectators at a gladiatorial coliseum. It is this additional side effect that creates a movie that is not only good due to its plot, production, and execution, but because it does cause us to reflect on our actions, our moral sentiments and our precarious nature as human beings. I Saw the Devil is a film that cannot be slept on anymore, it ranks as one of the most highly recommended revenge films to watch, along with films such as Kill Bill, Law Abiding Citizen, and/or Confessions to name a few. The film is hauntingly satisfying, and pulls the masks off of social civility and shows first hand what happens when we choose to listen to the devil on our left shoulder that drowns out the voice of our conscience and encourages to avenge our losses, to bring rage crashing down on those who have wronged us, but scarier still is that the bad conscience is the collective desire of the audience to see punishment for the killer, but what is the cost for both the protagonist and our being? It is this question that the film asks that makes it stand above many others, and should be added to any collection of top South Korean films, and films as a whole. On that note, I wish you all enjoy it, happy viewing :).
Watch: I Saw the Devil
Out of 10: 8