I Saw The Devil, FTW!
I have always been a fan of Korean films, especially since my first viewing of Oldboy (2003). Most Korean films I’ve watched are get messy to handle the somewhat grittier plots. Viewers can see a side of humanity that is usually ignored or glamorized in most American media. Violence and death are anything but glamorous, and when it comes to darker tones I think Korean films generally paint a more interesting picture. The most recent Korean flick I watched: I Saw The Devil (2010), a thriller following a once successful and happy secret agent, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) down a path of bloody vengeance after the head of his fiancee, Joo-yun (Oh San-ha), is discovered by her father, Squad Chief Jang (Jeon Kuk-hwan). The film isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when following this grizzly man-hunt. The two and a half hour film packs in a lot of story and drama that’ll keep you entertained, and asking a lot of questions by the end of it all.
1. Shit gets real... really fast. Once Soo-hyun has his list of potential killers his hunt begins, while the audience already knows he is looking for killer #3: Kyung-chul, played by the awesome Choi Min-sik (Oldboy). Immediately we understand that Soo-hyun is a force to be reckoned with and plays no games. He pretty much beats down first and asks questions later. But once it’s confirmed that Kyung-chul is the killer, the hunt really begins and it quickly becomes clear that Kyung-chul is about to endure some serious pain before Soo-hyun is good and done with him. This is probably the most aggressive cat-and-mouse game, as we watch Soo-hyun capture Kyung-chul beat him senseless or to a bloody pulp, before releasing him out into the wild again. As the chase wears on, the stakes get higher and begin to see some serious ramifications of both main characters’ actions.
2. Shit gets ugly... sooner rather than later. This movie does *not* shy away from the uglier side of things and shows violence even when it’s gruesome. You almost feel as vulnerable as Kyung-chul’s victims as you can only watch him unleash such violent rage on such unsuspecting victims. Once Kyung-chul is tracked and collared we begin to see viciousness taper off as he transforms from hunter to hunted. While Soo-hyun speaks and moves calmly, it isn’t long before Soo-hyun descends into blood-eyed raged, which is fueled with choking grief. Kyung-chul’s confusion and rage is directionless at first as he has no one to blame for his sudden role reversal. Once the opposing forces begin to really see and know each other, things escalate to a finale you couldn’t really see coming.
3. It’s a revenge story. Revenge isn’t an uncommon theme explored in film, i.e., Kill Bill, Taken, Memento, Oldboy, etc. This film really does not turn away from the ugliness of vengeance and its origins, making the audience really see how much acute pain is involved on both ends. At the final end who knows how to feel after all that bloodshed and death. Somewhat exhausted, the ending will catch you off-guard and even if you feel disturbed, angry, sad or even satisfied - you’ll feel such a great relief. Once the credits roll you will ponder over the ending and better yet, the ending makes you feel. This is a vengeance thriller, that’ll be sure to thrill and have you anticipating the end with questioning curiosity.
I love Korean action films nowadays, partially because I’m unsatisfied with most American action sequences. In just this film alone, the filmmakers displayed a real awareness of their set and space, and how to really get the audience in the midst of all the action. There are some really good set pieces that’ll have you jumping up in surprise and excitement, especially when you’re not really sure who to root for in all the chaos. Trust that every angle of action is the best angle you could get and you’re really seeing it all in raw form.