Starring:Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon

Director: Kim Jee-woon

“Please don’t kill me.”
“Why not?”

When brutal serial killer Kyung-chul murders the fiancee of government agent Kim Soo-hyun, the agent vows revenge. Hunting the killer down, Soo-hyun incapacitates him and places a tracking device on Kyung-chul; the beginning of a cruel cat and mouse game between the two which will blur the lines between good and evil.

Korean revenge movies have become rather commonplace over the last few years so it is very much to the credit of director Kim Jee-woon that his latest is so thoroughly engaging. Jee-woon first caught the attention of international audiences with the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters in 2003, and I Saw the Devil is equally as  accomplished, and equally as chilling.

At its core, I Saw the Devil is an unflinching  journey into human cruelty, taking in murder, revenge, cannibalism, rape and torture along the way and asking one question; is an act of cruelty rendered less so according to the innocence of the victim? It is this twisting and probing of moral certainties which is the driving force behind the movie and, while the presentation doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing (I Saw the Devil will never be hailed as the ideal date movie), it is never less than thoroughly absorbing.

Min-sik Choi is both terrifying and entertaining as the psychotic Kyung-chul, delivering the kind of manic performance that brought him to the attention in 2003′s Oldboy. Here is a man totally devoid of compassion, fear and morality, but by no means a fool. His insanity has not robbed him of his wits and this makes him truly dangerous. Byung-hun Lee, as the vengeful and determined agent Kim Soo-hyun, delivers the more reserved performance as a good man discovering to his horror what he is really capable of, willingly sinking to Kyung-chul’s level and perhaps beyond in his quest to make the killer suffer for his sins.

Kim Jee-woon brings a cold, uncompromising eye to proceedings and while the movie’s two and a half hour running time takes in a vast array of locations, all are shot with a crisp, harsh beauty. What we see is the world as it is, as stark and unreconstructed as the perceptions of the lead characters. However, when Jee-woon decides to let the camera free, particularly in a scene involving three people trying to stab each other to death in a moving car, there is some breathtaking ingenuity on display.

It was only seconds after he pushed her down the hill that he realised they’d forgotten the damn sled

There are some jarring leaps of logic along the way in I Saw the Devil which sometimes leave you scratching your head. The story sometimes moves from one location to another with barely an explanation as to the journey. Occasional threads are left hanging while the fates of a few characters seem unresolved. Whether this is down to necessary editing to reduce the already bloated running time is unknown, but it is a minor issue. I Saw the Devil is an enjoyable attempt to explore violence and cruelty without sparing the audience, and while it certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, this doesn’t weaken it as a valid and accomplished piece of cinema.

Expect a watered-down and feeble American remake to emerge soon.

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