Review: I Saw The Devil (Sundance)
PLOT: When his young wife is murdered by a serial killer (Choi Min Sik), a secret agent (Byung-hun Lee) instigates a campaign of torture and revenge against the man- with the ultimate goal of making the killer finally discover what it truly means to be someoneís victim.
REVIEW: I SAW THE DEVIL was a deliriously violent treat I was lucky enough to catch towards the end of the Sundance Film Festival. A shockingly violent thriller, I SAW THE DEVIL was so disturbing to many in its native South Korea, that the film ran afoul of the local censors before hitting theaters. Luckily, at Sundance we were able to catch the full, uncut version of one the most exciting serial killer thrillers Iíve seen since SE7EN.
Youíve got to hand it to the South Koreans. Nobody makes thrillers like they do- with this being the best cat and mouse flick Iíve seen since THE CHASER- another South Korean flick that rocked my word at the Fantasia Film Festival a few years ago. As shocking a film as I SAW THE DEVIL is, the thing that really surprises me is that no Hollywood studio has snapped up remake rights to the film, as this is as commercial a thriller as you could possibly imagine. Imagine THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS crossed with TAKEN, and you have a good idea of the type of film weíre dealing with here.
Itís actually a fairly unique take on the serial killer, or giallo genre, as I havenít seen a real slasher action flick since Sylvester Stalloneís COBRA from back in the day. While youíd assume this was a horror flick based on the title, and the way shocked filmgoers have been describing the violence, I SAW THE DEVIL is actually more of an action flick- and a superb one at that.
The idea behind it is shockingly simple, but effective. Imagine a film where the slasher murders the wife of a secret agent on par with Jason Bourne, or Liam Neeson in TAKEN. What would happen? Naturally, the hero would go after the killer, but I SAW THE DEVIL takes that idea way further. Rather than solely take the life of his prey, our hero wants to make the killerís life a living hell before finally snuffing him out. Within a half hour of the 141 minute running time, our hero already knows who the bad guy is. He catches him after a brief scrap, but rather than kill him, he just beats the living shit out of him, before leaving him unconscious with some cash so he can escape the authorities who are rapidly closing in on him.
After this initial meeting, he goes to get himself patched up at a clinic, before attempting to rape the young nurse working the late shift. Before he gets very far, our hero pops up again, saving the girl, and slicing the killerís Achilles tendon, before having the nurse patch him up, so he can continue his campaign. And so the game continuesÖ
Alas, this would be a pretty boring thriller if all it was were sequences of the baddie getting beaten up every ten minutes or so. But, our hero has a weakness; he overrates his own genius, allowing Choi Min Sikís character to slip out of his clutches, leading to a new campaign of terror, waged on the remaining members of our heroís family. From then on, this becomes a terrifying nail-bitter, and a film that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
I SAW THE DEVIL is the latest film from Kim Ji-Woon, whoís rapidly establishing himself as one of the premiere Korean directors, with this following on the heels of his acclaimed THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE WEIRD. Kimís one hell of an action director with this featuring two of the best action sequences Iíve seen in a while. The first features Choi Min-Sik having a knife fight with two men in a cab thatís spinning out of control. The second is an extended set piece where Byung-Hun Lee finds himself trapped in a remote mansion, trying to rescue a young woman whoís about to fall victim to Choi and a flesh-eating, serial killer crony of his.
The film also happens to include two of South Koreaís biggest stars in the lead roles. As the villain, I SAW THE DEVIL gives Choi Min-Ski his most iconic role since the great OLDBOY, and his wacked-out intensity is a perfect match to the role. As the hero, Byung-Hun Lee (Storm Shadow in GI JOE) comes off as an engaging, Chow Yun-Fat style badass good guy.
I SAW THE DEVIL really is one of the most exciting thrillers Iíve seen in a long time, and if you can stomach the extreme violence (which, to be sure- is more of the KILLER INSIDE ME variety than the exploitative SAW kind), this is a suspenseful nail-biter sure to please horror and action fans alike.
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