Movie of the Day – I Saw The Devil
July 15, 2011 1 Comment
Well, if you know me well enough and have been reading my blog posts, then you know my love of Korean cinema and their love of wanton violence and emotion fueled rampages. I covered the Park Chan-Wook revenge trilogy and discussed about the suspenseful film Mother. There has been an emerging pattern in my selection of Korean films and they revolve around vengeance and violence. I wrote three long posts about vengeance and the emotion drive that overtakes the characters and today’s post is no different from the previous posts. I Saw The Devil is brutal film to watch. Not in the sense that the subject matter is difficult, but emotional gut punch you get when watching two actors vehemently amp up the violence towards one another in each scene. The film is rough and gritty to watch, but such a gorgeous movie that plays with this cat and mouse scenario, only if the cat and mouse each have the ability to wield giants knives and outright attack one another. Let’s setup the story first before I dive into the subtext of the movie and why I seem to love violent, revenge driven flicks.
On a snowy night out on the open road, Joo-yun’s car is having some issues and pull over to the side of the road. Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) pulls over and offers assistance to the stranded woman’s car. Joo-yun declines, not knowing that Kyung is actually a homicidal murderer and is kidnapped and brutally murdered. Her body is cut into pieces and scattered across the road, until a young boy discovers her severed ear and the police are brought out. The chief of police finds out during the investigation that it is his daughter Joo-yun who was the victim and he contacts her fiance Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) who is an agent of the government. Soo is determined to find the killer and exact the revenge he so desires. Soo eventually tracks down the potential killer, Kyung and confronts him in a greenhouse, subduing him and planting a transmitter on him to know about his daily ongoing. Soo hounds Kyung and both are locked in to an escalating, violent clash that pushes their limits in terms of revenge.
I said before that the movie is a tough watch and I do mean it. It’s not tough in that torture porn sort of way where the film makers just try to up the ante in terms of creative deaths and gore. The film itself is an emotional wreck when it comes to the vicious violence that each character takes upon one another. There is cannibalism, defecation, tendon slicing, decapitations and rape. While not all of this takes place in front of our eyes, it is the fact that we are left to fill in the blank of these actions that frightens us. As viewers, if the violence takes place in front of our eyes, we know exactly what happened. We saw the action and therefore able to process the act, but if not shown the final kill stroke, we have to imagine that what took place is far worse than what we would have seen. Think back to like Pulp Fiction and the reaction to the violence in that movie. The heart injection scene was one of the more violent scenes, but we never saw the actual penetration of the needle into the heart, but a quick cut here and there made it seem worse than it was. The movie isn’t all cutaways though, as they are not afraid to show some of the gruesome kill strokes.
I am not sure why I seem to gravitate towards these types of films or even why Korean directors love to dabble with the violent subject matter and emotional toll that revenge has on characters. Director Kim Ji-woon previously directed A Bittsweet Life which was about a gangster exacting revenge on his boss that wronged him, which also starred Lee Byung-hun. The movie is beautiful and moving, but the violence was more operatic than visceral. Here, the violence is the centerpiece and the motive that drives the movie. Even Choi Min-sik who plays Kyung in the movie is no stranger to the world of revenge and violence. Starring in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, both films being about revenge and their violence is direct and difficult to stomach.
Ultimately, the subject of violence and vengeance is more of a lesson plan than anything else. In all the movie about violence, there is no happy ending to be found. Never did violence make a person whole nor does it come without consequences. I am not sure if the theme is needing to be hammered home all the time in these movies, but it is impactful and has weight. The violence is surreal at times, but it has weight and meaning. Watching each man go to the depths they have to in order to satisfy their needs is unnerving, but interesting to watch.
I have touted a lot about the violence and while not the most shocking or gore filled movie out there, it is certainly tempered by Kim Ji-woon’s directing. The movie is gorgeous to look at. Every setting is tightly framed, the pacing is taut and there is enough momentum to get you over the next hurdle of violence. I have been a fan of Kim Ji-woon’s films ever since I saw the dark visuals of A Tale of Two Sisters, which is an excellent horror movie. The Good, The Bad and The Weird is by far one of him most visually entertaining films and one of the best Westerns I have seen in a long time. Getting Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik together on-screen is a dream come true for me and both bring such incredible energy to the movie.
If you are interested in seeing the movie, please check it out on Netflix Instant Stream.