Directed by Kim Jee-Woon and released in 2010, I Saw The Devil is an intense revenge story which doesn’t follow the conventional path of the genre.
On a freezing, snowy night, a young woman, daughter of a retired police chief and pregnant fiancée of elite special agent Soo-hyun, is brutally murdered by a psychopath. Obsessed with revenge, Soo-hyun decides to track down the murderer, even if doing so means becoming a monster himself. And when he finds Kyung-chul, turning him in to the authorities is the last thing on his mind.
What strikes you first with this film is the elaborate camera work. From the choice of angles to perfectly framed shots, there are numerous mesmerizing scenes which contrast with the brutality of what is happening on screen thus emphasizing the absurdity of the characters’ actions. The beauty of the scenes depicting gruesome murders is also a clever way of provoking repulsion and terror.
The violence is raw and realistic which renders the film more terrifying than any over-the-top gorefest. The sound of the weapons hitting the victims is especially unbearable. Kim Jee-Won is a master at showing horror in the most unsettling way imaginable.
The title of the film refers more to the main character than the villain (who is nothing more than a twisted, perverted, gross psychopath). His thirst for revenge leads him on a dark path, making the devil inside emerge. I Saw The Devil brilliantly shows the purposelessness of revenge as our main character leaves a trail of collateral damage and loses his moral compass as he avenges his lost love. Lee Byun-Hung’s performance is intense and very subtle as he has only a few lines but still conveys so much emotion and internal struggle.
However, I found one element of the film to be rather unnecessary as it doesn’t add anything to the plot. The killer already appears as a gruesome monster with no humanity so adding another sub-plot didn’t work in the favor of the story. Furthermore, the film is a bit too long, with a running time of 140+ minutes. It drags in the middle but the rhythm picks up again in the third act for the most intense 45 minutes of footage I have seen in a long time. This sequence had me glued to the screen, my body tensed and my mind 100% immersed in the film.
I Saw The Devil is not for the faint of heart. Full of tension and suspense, its extreme violence is never pointless and always serves the story. This film should be recommended to any horror enthusiast who wants an original revenge story with beautiful cinematography.