Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Written by Hoon-jung Park
I Saw the Devil is the latest film from Jee-woon Kim, whose dark and dorky comedy The Quiet Family is one of my favorite films (and provided the source material for Takashi Miike's The Happiness of the Katikuris). The Foul King further demonstrated a droll comedic style. The director's elegantly spooky short film "Memories" was a standout in the trilogy Three Extremes II. And my wish to share with everyone I know the psychological/supernatural horror A Tale of Two Sisters is one reason I started this blog.
What happens next infuses I Saw the Devil with a sense of urgency. The Good Samaritan turns out to be a serial killer trawling for victims. This would be just another act of random violence in an unpredictable world, both absurd and tragic, except for one unusual fact. The fiance who is plunged into guilt and vengeance is not an office worker. He's a government agent, a man with extraordinary skills and a killer instinct. So he takes time off work to track down, torment and annihilate the man who killed his beloved.
A similar premise--innocent victim avenged by a relentless loved one--has been used plenty of times. What Jee-woon Kim brings to the revenge film is an adult approach to character behavior. His characters have complex emotional lives. Over the course of the story they face the boundaries of psychological endurance. It is unusual to find a filmmaker of such intensity and virtuosity who focuses on the significance of simple decisions and actions, and on the tiny cruelties and wordless victories of real human interaction.
If this were a typical revenge movie the audience would have to be content with watching the protagonist destroy his enemy. In I Saw the Devil the conflict between the secret agent (Byung-hun Lee) and the serial killer (Oldboy star Min-sik Choi) yields a couple of weighty moral questions: When and how does violence end? If our hero becomes as intent upon his horrific mission as the killer is dedicated to his evil pursuits, then who is the good guy?
Some over-the-top dramatic action will hold the attention of viewers who are not interested in answering these questions. Adults who are convinced by early scenes to crave an eye for an eye will have more to think about. The final moment of this blood-soaked thriller says it all: Nothing can satisfy our deep-rooted desire to set the world right, following the loss of everything that we love.