Starring Byung-hun Lee ( A Bittersweet Life, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and Min-sik Choi (The Quiet Family, Oldboy, Crying Fist, Lady Vengeance) and directed by Jee-woon Kim (The Quiet Family, A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good, the Bad, the Weird), I Saw the Devil is devilishly hard to watch.
The film opens with a young girl, Joo-yeon, who is travelling by car through a snow covered countryside. Her car tyre goes flat and while she is waiting for the breakdown service to arrive, she calls her fiance Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), who works for the Korean Secret Service. While she is talking to Kim a man comes up, Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) and offers to change her tyre for her.
Joo-yeon refuses and the man leaves only to return with a hammer to smash her window in with. He strikes her with the hammer and takes her unconscious body away. Kim is understandably upset that his fiancée is in danger. Kyung-chul in the meantime has raped and murdered Joo-yeon. Afterwards he cuts her body up and scatters the pieces around the countryside.
Joo-yeon’s father is a policeman, a squad leader and he is present when the police find Joo-yeon’s head. Kim Soo-yeon uses a suspect list that Joo-yeon’s father has to find the murderer. He vows to get revenge for his fiancée’s death.
Jee-woon Kim, has made a powerful and disturbing film. I Saw the Devil could be described as a modern morality tale. Kim Soo-hyeon’s cold determination to catch his fiancée’s killer, has him brutally questioning the suspects to narrow down his search for the killer. When he finally discovers that it is Kyung-chul, he begins a series of violent and gory retribution against him.
Kyung-chul though is a different animal from the usual sexual predator. He is actually a predator, full stop. Kim’s brutal torturing of Kyung-chul just makes things worse. Kim finds out, to his horror, that Kyung-chul is a twisted type A personality, a ‘right-man’ who will not stop until he has either won or died.
When Kyung-chul finds out who has been tracking him and injuring him repeatedly, he vows his own revenge on Kim Soo-yeon. A deadly cat and mouse game between the two ensues, with Kim having to sink to the same level of evil as Kyung-chul.
The film was excruciating to watch. The rape scenes were uncomfortable and horrible. The scenes of retribution against Min-sik’s character, although satisfying, were equally horrible to watch. Although we feel the rage that Kim feels and that the actions he takes are justified. We cannot help but be saddened by the toll it takes him and on everyone involved.
The police are frustrated and angry, Kim begins to lose his grip on normalcy and everyone peripherally involved gets caught up in the action.
This is the latest offering from Jee-woon Kim, one of the best directors in South Korea. If you are a Jee-woon fan you will not want to miss this film. If you are not aware of Jee-woon Kim’s work, it is a good introduction to his prowess as a director.