Still courtesy of TIFF.
I Saw The Devil
Kim Ji-Woon’s I Saw The Devil manages successfully what James Gunn’s Super botches utterly, i.e. satisfactorily responding to the moral quagmires essential to, but almost always effaced by, a popular mode of ultra-violent genre cinema. Where Gunn lazily addresses the sadism inherent in American caped crusader pictures, Kim’s latest undertakes a similar program with the vigilante revenge thrillers that have come to dominate South Korea’s genre film renaissance of the past decade or so.
His first step is casting Choi Min-Sik, the scorned badass from Park Chan-Wook’s crossover hit Oldboy, as deranged serial killer Kyung-chul, a school bus driver who ruthlessly abducts and tortures young women before scattering their dismembered body parts across the countryside, as if to goad the inept police (another recurring theme in the last ten years of South Korean thrillers). But when he offs the fiancée of government agent Joo-yeong (Lee Byung-hun), he finds himself squarely on the receiving end of some gritty, Oldboy-style vengeance.
Instead of just tracking down and killing (or turning in) Kyung-chul, Joo-yeong severely injures him, sets him free, and then locates him again to repeat the brutal beatdown. His decision to keep the killer alive (“We’ve only just begun,” Joo-yeong coldly repeats) leads to more bodies piling up, until the cops—struggling diligently to pull their heads out of their asses—are on the trail of two unhinged murderers. Both leads turn in remarkable performances, but Choi Min-Sik bursts back onto the Korean film scene with his own brand of vengeance, gobbling up scenery with mesmerizing aplomb. I Saw The Devil is a remarkable thriller, easily the best to come out of South Korea since Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, ferociously upending the genre’s well-worn boilerplate with unflinching conviction.
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