[Thanks to Guillem Rosset for the following review.]
Korean director Kim Jee-woon has build quite an impressive filmography. Films like A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life or The Good, The Bad, And The Weird achieved international success and gathered him a lot of fans and well deserved attention. Kim Jee-woon has also jumped from genre to genre, and so this time he's decided to tackle the thriller with I Saw The Devil, a powerful vengeance story.
Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is a dangerous psychopath who kills for pleasure. His latest victim is a young beautiful woman who happens to be the daughter of a retired police chief and the fiancé of Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), a top secret agent. So Soo-hyun, with the help of his fiancé's father, decides to track down the murderer himself and vows to do whatever necessary to take vengeance against Kyung-chul, even if he must become a monster himself to achieve it. The film spends little time in the process of Soo-hyun finding the killer, this is not a movie about the good guy tracking down the bad guy. It's a film about revenge, and so it spends most of its running time in the process of executing it and its consequences.
Let me put this straight: this is one of the best thrillers that I've seen in a long time. Given its premise, some people might despise the film as being too reminiscent of Park Chan-wook's vengeance trilogy. Yes, there are certainly some similarities, but the film does stand on its own by its own merits. And having two of the most talented actors of Korean cinema certainly helps. Choi Min-sik makes his return to the big screen after five years of inactivity creating a very powerful character, an unpredictable serial killer with no motives and that doesn't know the feeling of pain. Lee Byung-hun begins as the calculating agent who keeps everything under control, but as the film progresses we witness his descent into the darkness as he keeps pushing the boundaries of how far he's willing to go for the sake of revenge.
The film is also wonderful from a technical standpoint. Kim Jee-woon creates a dark and gripping world thanks to a great production design, and makes very good of it with superb camera work and some truly astonishing sequences (for instance, there's a fight between three people inside a running car that's brilliant). It's a film that only keeps growing throughout its running time, and this is really something for a 141 minutes long film. It's also a very explicit movie. The violence in it is very painful and realistic (in fact, there are some scenes that had been censored in Korea, though in Sitges we were able to see the uncut version) and there's a couple of scenes that could make you grind your teeth. It's a very powerful movie, with strong visuals and a compelling script capable of raising serious questions about the subject.
It's a shame that the film was screened outside competition in Sitges, because this one was probably one the best movies of this year's festival. It sure is one convincing proof that Korean cinema is still amongst the best cinematographies in the world, and a film that firmly establishes Kim Jee-woon as one of its most interesting and gifted filmmakers.
Review by Guillem Rosset
I Saw the Devil
- Jee-woon Kim (adaptation)
- Hoon-jung Park (screenplay)
- Byung-hun Lee
- Min-sik Choi
- In-seo Kim
- Ho-jin Chun
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