I Saw the Devil is a brutally violent, hypnotic thriller. The film begins with the serial killer abducting a female victim. After nearly destroying her head with a hammer, he dismembers her and disposes of the various body parts. Yeah, awesome stuff. The film is unrelentingly gory, so if you have a weak stomach or can’t handle gore, then I would avoid because it overshadows the plot. So, as we follow the sadistic serial killer the story gets going along as we witness him killing the pregnant daughter of the local police chief. The running time is a bit long, but if you’re convinced that all this is is a string of murderous footage, I can exclaim with confidence that there is enough plot to fill an entire 144-minute film.
We know from the opening scene that Kang is indeed the killer and when Kim So-Hyun breaks into his home, he realizes he has found his man. But instead of turning Kang over to justice, Kim decides that he will beat, torture and then release Kang over and over again tormenting him without peace. If you are a fan of Asian cinema at ALL, you should be familiar with Ji-Woo Kim and he is in top form here. Ji-woon Kim does not shy away from the violence inflicted by his characters. I’m sure someone will make a bloodier movie, but as it stands in 2010, this is probably the current gore benchmark.
Upon finishing this film I had read that I Saw the Devil was so graphic, that it caused a controversy in Korea when censors would only allow it to screen uncut in theatres that are 18+. Thing is, there are no adult-only theatres in Korea, so they effectively banned the film for life. That just added to my hype meter, and frankly, taking it all in I have concluded that I saw the best serial killer movie in many years and clearly one that goes in my Top 5 serial killer films of all time. The film is a gritty, merciless experience that could never be truly recreated in North America. This is the kind of hard-boiled revenge thriller you could only find in Korea, even if the revenge tale at the core of I Saw the Devil is not all too original.
It isn’t all good though, like I have softly whispered throughout this review, as there are huge chunks of complete dehumanization of women and the practice of cannibalism. Also the fact that we witness her grisly murder sets up an emotional connection to Lee’s grief, which in turn, makes for a very depressing viewing. The action scenes are shot surprisingly well, and there’s a certain pleasure to be derived from watching the hunter become hunted. Minor gripes aside, the films’ scenes are no less sleek and stylish than anything Hollywood has to offer, and comes highly recommended.