Genre: Thriller, Drama, Crime
“I Saw the Devil” is a 2010 South Korean action thriller directed by Kim Jee-woon and written by Park Hoon-jung. Starring Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik, the film follows NIS agent Kim Soo-hyun (Lee), who embarks on a quest of revenge when his fiancée is brutally murdered by the psychopathic serial killer Jang Kyung-chul (Choi).
The movie opens with Joo-yeon(Oh San Ha) in her car, talking to her fiancee Kim Soo‑hyeon (Lee Byung‑hun) who is an agent of the National Intelligence Service, as she waits for a tow-truck. Kyung‑Chul (Choi Min‑sik) approaches Joo-yeon and offers help to fix her car’s flat tire, to which she politely refuses and tells him she’ll wait for the tow-truck instead. The man doesn’t leave.
It is the opening sequences that leaves the audience unsettled and sets the bar for the movie which is continuously raised as the movie progresses. Kyung-Chul begins his attack on Joo-yeon knocking her unconscious, drags her to his place where he cuts her body into pieces and scatters them into the local drain.
A few days later, the police discovers parts of her dismembered body in a river. Jang(Jeon Gook-hwan), the police chief and father of the girl, gives Soo-hyun a list of suspects who have been accused of similar crimes before, and he proceeds his investigation in order to exact revenge. Soon after, Soo-hyun finds the perpetrator, but instead of arresting him, he decides to exact his revenge slowly.
He beats him unconscious but as he is about to kill him, he pauses and lets him go — but with a tracking device in his body. His decision initiates a relentless hunt between the two, with the roles of the hunter and the hunted changing constantly and none of the people around them being safe.
Direction, Screenplay & Cinematography
The story in itself can feel a little too short for a film with a runtime of 2 hours and 23 minutes, after-all its just a cat and mouse chase between the protagonist and the antagonist, right? NO.
Kim Jee-woon has presented us with a masterpiece in a genre that is already saturated to quite an extent. On the surface, it can seem like a traditional revenge saga where the protagonist exacts revenge for the loss of his loved one but the film has several layers attached to it.
The screenplay by Hoon-jung Park doesn’t follow the traditional narrative of a revenge saga where the audience follows the viewpoint of the protagonist. Rather, the audience shares the mindset of the antagonist as well whenever he’s in the frame.
The film’s cinematographer, Lee Mo-gae has done a remarkable job in enhancing the essence of the film. In the opening sequence, when Kyung-Chul attacks Joo-yeon, the camera focuses on Joo-yeon’s face, terror in her eyes, as a line of blood trickles down her face. The camera pauses on this moment, and the viewer is confronted with the full weight of what Joo-yeon is feeling. For a few slow seconds, nothing happens. Time stops as the hope that Joo-yeon’s fate may not yet be sealed clashes with her inevitable death.
The scene that takes place in the car is shot in a way that you know exactly what each character present in the frame is thinking with minimal verbal exchange. All of the action sequences in this film are choreographed and shot well but this scene in particular stands out for me in particular due to the mental instability it creates among the viewers and you get to witness the sheer evil Choi Min-sik’s character possesses.
The perfect combination of direction, screenplay & cinematography keeps the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the film despite how violent and gruesome it gets. The film is shot in a way that even the less relevant scenes seem relevant.
Also, the film is so fast paced that the viewer never has enough time to process what’s happening. Even when the film is supposed to slow down, it doesn’t. It keeps on surprising you with information and that is why you never get bored even for a second throughout the length of the film.
Despite, numerous encounters between the two main leads, the film doesn’t get repetitive and isn’t just confined to the action sequence alone. The story develops between the action sequences which justifies their purpose despite having gone overboard with violence and brutality.
One of the reasons that this film is so engaging is that it is anchored by two brilliant performances. Lee Byung‑hun precisely captures the emotions of a grieving man soaked in anger on his path for vengeance and Choi Min‑sik, who, in my opinion, is the standout performer in the film. He perfectly captures the aura and behavioral elements of a psychopath. As soon as he appears on the screen(when he approaches Joo-yeon, you know something is off about him and to do that with such minimalism is remarkable.
Even though the we’re not given any backstory on Choi Min-sik’s character to answer the “Why’s” (Why he does what he does and why is he the way he is). Choi Min-sik’s performance immediately invests us in his story, in a negative way, of-course.
Trivia: During the shoot, Choi Min-sik was so into character that he got the idea of beating up a random stranger who talked rudely to him in an elevator, only to realize he has turned violent during the shoot and eventually freaking out. Following the film’s release, he met a girl in the elevator who freaked out and panicked seeing him, having watched the film. To calm her down, he told her “I don’t kill people anymore, so you don’t need to be worried about me. I’m human, not a killer.”
This film will certainly take you through a roller coaster of emotions throughout its run and leave you with a dilemma and an incomplete feeling at the end as neither the protagonist or the antagonist wins.
This is one of those films where people with equal power come head to head and this is what makes the duel between the two interesting. Kyung-Chul is portrayed as the perfect villain for our hero Kim Soo-hyun. Kyung-Chul knows that he cannot defeat Kim Soo-hyun in hand to hand combat so he finds another way to mess with his head. He shows him that all this torture has no affect on him and he feels no fear or pain which is exactly what Kim wanted him to feel.
There’s no conclusion or a feeling of closure when this movie ends. All you are left with is a feeling of pity for the protagonist. Despite having all the resources to keep her fiancee safe from harm, he loses her which is topped off when his revenge isn’t fulfilled in the concluding scenes of the film.
“I Saw The Devil” by Kim Jee-woon is a must watch if you like action thrillers and are up for some gruesome and violent scenes that will keep you engaged throughout the running minutes of the film. Cheers.