I Saw the Devil (2010)

Jee-woon Kim, the director of Korea’s I Saw the Devil is a very talented individual.  His films are beautiful to look at, which is admirable considering he doesn’t make Oscar-bait films.  His A Tale of Two Sisters is one of the best ghost stories of the past 20 years, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a thrilling East-Western.  Looking forward to his critically-acclaimed I Saw the Devil was pretty much a no-brainer.

Oldboy's Min-sik Choi is up to no good

Oldboy's Min-sik Choi is up to no good

So why didn’t I enjoy it?

The problem lies in how little respect it shows for it’s female characters (as humans or as victims), while it uses them them ad-nauseum to hammer home it’s violent plot.  Make it known – that’s all that women are in this film:  victims.   While three (mostly two) men scheme, plot, and carry out acts of violence and vengeance – numerous women are threatened, beaten, assaulted, violated, humiliated, tortured, killed, and chopped into bits to be fed to dogs (or worse).  It permeates the film from first frame to last.

Lee's Soo-hyun gets the upper hand

Lee's Soo-hyun gets the upper hand

 

This is not to suggest that I Saw the Devil is misogynist.  It is no more anti-woman than any other slasher, James Bond movie, or serial-killer flick – a mish-mash of insanity that would be a good description of the Korean film itself.  Plus, men are tortured too.  This is a violent movie, no doubt about it.   TGTB&TW’s Byung-hun Lee stars as Soo-hyun – a badass mofo of a super-secret government agent, who’s pregnant fiancee is brutally murdered by a serial killer (played by Oldboy’s brilliant Min-sik Choi ) at the start of the film.  The dead girl’s father (the Police Chief) and Soo-hyun secretly join forces to avenge her murder, setting up a deadly between Super-Spy and Maniacal Killer.

A woman in peril!  What a (not) surprise!

A woman in peril! What a (not) surprise!

The cat-and-mouse game between the two is what redeems the film.  Both men’s performances ramp up here, growing beyond the cliche nonsense which each began with.  It’s a nice bit of revenge fantasy this, as hunter Soo-hyun plays with his Killer-cum-victim by playing a vicious game of catch-and-release.  It helps to alleviate the aggressive nastiness – and even add a bit of humor into the story.  While I appreciate many of the films in which an avenger crosses over to the Dark Side, sadly it never felt real for me with I Saw the Devil, primarily because Soo-hyun is such a badass.  As a sexy, Bourne-like super-spy – he’s an over-the-top, unstoppable killing machine.  Perhaps I’ve been too brain-washed by popular American action pictures  – but I never took his fight with the Demon-Within seriously, which is key to enjoying this film.

Without the belief that Soo-hyun is fighting turning into a crazy killer himself, all of the realism and violence of the preceding hour-plus rung hollow for me.  If I’m going to suffer through hours of violence against women, i at least want to trust that Jason Bourne is gonna go apeshit and avenge us – without having to worry if he’ll be all emo about his deeds afterward.  Had I Saw the Devil chosen which it wanted to be – a thoughtful discourse of violence or a Spy-Revenge fantasy – I would have been able to recommend it more.  Without that it left me wanting less – and more.

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Don't let the day job fool you, this computer consultant knows the Ooky Spooky. De7en was weaned by Jaws, suffered through puberty with Carrie, and tore into adulthood hand-in-glove with Freddy. From foreign frights and classic cuts to gallons of gore and more extreme fare, De7en is always ready to dig into something fresh.