I Saw the Devil (Akmareul Boatda)

I Saw the Devil

Going on a date with Min-sik Choi is a drag.

(2010) Suspense (Magnet) Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Jeon, San-ha Oh, Yoon-seo Kim, San-ha Oh. Directed by Jee-woon Kim

There is justice; then there is vengeance. Often when in deep grief, the difference between the two gets blurred and indistinct. Sometimes that line disappears completely.

Ju-yeon (Oh) is driving on a rural snowy road one night when she gets a flat tire. She gets on the phone with her fiancée, an elite secret police agent Soo-hyeon Kim (Lee). Suddenly there’s a knock on her window – a Samaritan offers to take a look at her tire but she politely refuses – a tow truck is on the way and she’s a little concerned with letting a stranger get access to her car while she’s alone on a dark lonely road. She has good reason to be concerned; the stranger picks up a tire iron and smashes in her window and rapes her in the car, pummeling her with the iron.

After that, he drags her to an industrial building. He chains the bloody and battered semi-conscious woman to a pole while she begs for her life. Then he somewhat calmly dismembers her while she’s still alive.

Ju-yeon is also the daughter of the section chief (Ho-jin Jeon); the discovery of her dismembered body (including her head, floating serenely with a stark and disturbing beauty in a nearby pond) simply destroys the chief and his future son-in-law Soo-hyeon.

Soo-hyeon determines to find the killer himself and give him not so much a hint of justice but the ultimate vengeance. He vows to make the killer suffer as much as his fiancée did in the final moments of her life. His prospective father-in-law is all for it and gives him complicit consent and assistance, providing the police files of the investigation.

After plowing through several suspects (hurting them so badly in the interrogation that they turn themselves into the police) he finds one, Kyung-Chul (Choi, from Oldboy) who turns out to be the one he’s looking for. He has the opportunity to capture the man – and in fact does – but chooses to release him in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, allowing the officer of the law to inflict as much torture as humanly possible on the man who destroyed his future.

Revenge is a theme that seems to resonate with the Koreans; some of their best movies have had it as a subject matter. Here Kim (The Good The Bad The Weird) ratchets it up to a new level of violence and extreme. While the film is unrated here, I would guess it would certainly get an R at the very least and an NC-17 at worst. The gore is extreme, the violence is extreme and the images can be pretty brutal. There are also several rapes that take place, although none of them are really that graphic.

Min-sik Choi, who was the victim in Oldboy, plays a much different role here. He is the demented killer and one gets a sense of diabolical cleverness from him, not to mention the horrible sense that he may explode into violence at any given moment. While he doesn’t have matinee idol looks, he is a consummate actor who would be getting Oscar potential roles were he here in the States.

Byung-hun Lee has a good deal of screen presence and matinee idol looks. His dogged determination is evident; he even gets emotional at times but for the most part he’s icy cool. He could potentially be a major action star over here; I would love to see a few studios take a chance on him.

There are some standard action movie elements but all of them are turned on their ear. The movie has been labeled by some as misogynistic and torture porn. As to the former, I didn’t see it. Yes, there was violence done to women, but that was the nature of the killer – a rapist-murderer. Sometimes, serial killers are not equal opportunity maniacs. As to torture porn while there were elements of that, the plot was much more defined and intricate to relegate to that particular genre – this isn’t a Saw movie gang – but it’s got that kind of brutality and in some cases, even more extreme.

I have said it before, I’m saying it now and I’m going to say it again – this isn’t a movie for the squeamish or the sensitive. It is, however, a movie for those who like extreme movies that are well acted, decently plotted and unafraid to go there, wherever there is.

REASONS TO GO: Insanely over-the-top violence occasionally lightened by a sense of sly humor. Choi makes a wonderful serial killer and Lee is a fine hero.

REASONS TO STAY: Too violent for some. Sometimes things get so insane you’re not exactly sure what’s happening.

FAMILY VALUES: If you bring your kids to this one, someone is going to call child protective services. This is ultra-violent, sadistic, and chock full of scenes of violence, torture, rape and peppered with bad words just to make things interesting.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ironically the movie is so violent the Korean Media Rating Board made Kim recut the movie or face a Restricted rating which would have prevented the film being released in its native land. The version available in the United States has never been seen in Korea and unlikely that she ever will.

HOME OR THEATER: I saw this on a big screen and while I can honestly say that seeing it at home is perfectly acceptable, nonetheless I’m recommending the theater just for the visceral effects.


TOMORROW: Red Riding Hood