Dec 2, 2010

I Saw the Devil

I've been picking my brain raw in consideration of a review on Kim Ji-woon's latest effort in the form of vigilante nihilism. Every social construct or approved branch of justice is at its mercy in I Saw the Devil. The characters understand the game at hand so flawlessly that mistakes and repercussions are merely shrugged off as the witty cat-and-mouse exploits have created a form of rivalry so potent that agony itself is suppressed from both of the leading men. The scale of inert mayhem reaches the point of becoming a staggering rendition of what The Chaser could have been had rape and brutal violence been introduced to the mix. Not to inhibit The Chaser's universal appeal to even those who aren't wary of the wonders of foreign cinema, but I Saw the Devil has more things going for it and maintains a steady pace at all time with The Chaser. In the end, both of these films seem to be likely companion pieces to each other, leaving I Saw the Devil with administrative rights over The Chaser's toned foundation. Too bad I Saw the Devil didn't introduce yet another anti-social butterfly to weed out the whores and scum - children or not.

Lee Byung-hun follows the universal-piece-of-shit G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra with a reuniting of Kim Je-woon, director of The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Along for the ride is Choi Min-sik who most of you know as the sociopathic lead of the gateway Korean film, Oldboy. After losing his fiancée to a serial rapist/murderer, Lee Byung-hun utilizes his skills from being an NIS agent to capture and tease the killer with bludgeonings and many unanswered questions. As detailed in the script, I Saw the Devil is essentially a twisted hunt, "Catch and release..." is the only way Byung-hun can fulfill the promise he made to inflict 1000 times the amount of pain his beautiful broad suffered at the hands of this killer. But on a positive note, it is noted that Min-sik "always gives pleasure before pain." What follows is a series of cringe-worthy torture scenes, brief however, and stellar performances by both of the starring monsters. Taking in Min-sik's role of Oh Dae-su, it was still hard to imagine him stooping so low to scrape the bottom of the barrel for what might be the most twisted and ambiguous profile of a killer in Korean cinema yet.

A strange renaissance has occurred recently. It seems that the sometimes-banal horror community has started to flock and mingle about this films release. Had there been no severing of an Achilles tendon or multiple decapitations, one must wonder if the pimpled Krueger fans would have ever been wary of I Saw the Devil's existence. But even with the content remaining, wiping the drool left from "respectable" communities who pride slaughter over sympathy, I Saw the Devil is being shown in an edited form, lacking over seven minutes of runtime to keep from getting a +19 which is the strictest rating in South Korea. I Saw the Devil does have a soul, however. It isn't a film about the mercy of love, rather, revenge. The tragic incident unfolds through the first 5 minutes of the film in order to jump start the intensity and chronicle the heartbreak rather than the romance, which seems to be a South Korean standard in film. A fun fact is Yeonpyeong Island, home to Choi Min-Sik's ruthless character, was fired upon with artillery by North Korea not too long ago, tying film fact and fiction to current events.

This film eventually boils over with the excess torture and extreme misogyny/degradation, which is a miracle in my book. Before this reaches into the realm of error though, Ji-woon finally releases the leash to allow the once slow-burning baggage to rain down in glorious last-minute hysterics, rendering the odyssey itself an artifice. Truly one of S.Korea's more versatile and extinguished actors, Lee Byung-hun proves himself to be a game changer and with the closure of this tale, a huge sigh of relief escapes me. I've been widdling away at the most anticipated releases of the past two years. Worse off is the fact that the list just keeps building itself back up to an intimidating length. Next up, Mr. Oizo's Rubber. Chalk that up to bad cinephile behavior. To wrap my thoughts up in a decorative piece, I Saw the Devil isn't exactly S.Korea's best foray into criminal minds. With Memories of Murder, No Mercy, The Chaser, and the many others flooding the theaters faster than they can make them, I Saw the Devil merges quite fittingly into the latter. The script-writing is razor-sharp and the production is as lively as it is maddening. All in all, definitely worth the wait.



Phantom of Pulp said...

You've confirmed my confidence in this film... and i look terribly forward to it.

Soiled Sinema said...

Have you seen the recent K-thriller No Mercy? If so, thoughts?