You Can’t Fight The Devil Without Becoming The Devil Yourself
Kim Soo-hyun is a loving man who works too much. Despite this, his fiancée adores him. He sang to her the last time he spoke to her over the phone. As she is waiting for a tow truck, she is assaulted and kidnapped by a bus driver. The next time she is seen is as her body is being pulled from a river in pieces. This is also the last time anyone sees Soo-hyun as the man who sang to his fiancée. With the love of his life gone, his world turns black. There is only one thing to remedy the pain caused by a man he has never met but who he will soon come to know. Revenge is a concept everyone fantasizes about but it’s one that draws an impossible toll. It’s true what Nietzsche said, “When you look into the abyss, it looks right back into you.”
Movies about revenge tend to follow similar trajectories. Man is wronged, man seeks revenge, the perpetrator turns the tables, revenge is attained. I Saw The Devil is a film of a similar formula, but director Kim Jee-woon saw the deeper story in Soo-hyun’s journey. The meaning of the film’s title is a metaphor that suggests that one can’t achieve the ultimate revenge without destroying themselves in the process.
The plot sees Soo-hyun tracking the sadistic serial killer Kyung-chul to force him to feel the pain and fear he had caused to his fiancée by first torturing him and then setting him free… before repeating the process again and again. Each time he catches Kyung-chul, the punishment he inflicts on his adversary elevates, while the killer has no idea who Soo-hyun is or why he is attacking him. It’s a form of revenge that most dream about, but in seeing it are surprised at how uncomfortable it is to watch.
As the film proceeds, it becomes harder to root for Soo-hyun, not out of pity for Kyung-chul, but because of how deep into the killer’s world Soo-hyun lets himself fall to hurt him. Soo-hyun takes it to levels of extreme that cause even those who had aided him to believe things are going too far.
To carry on the themes of this film while making them believable requires an expert level of acting and I Saw The Devil brings precisely that. Lee Byung-hun brings a level of depth that fans of his action roles may not be familiar with. Seeing him in action as Soo-hyun gives this movie the appearance of being another one of his action films but upon seeing his face, one knows more is going on. When he is attacking, the rage of someone who had something precious taken from them is recognizable, but so is the pain of someone suffering on a deep level. The man who sang to his fiancée at the start of I Saw The Devil reemerges in his moments of rage against Kyung-chul in forms of anguish that may not be seen in most revenge flicks.
But, of course, with most revenge films, the hero is only as good as the villain, and Choi Min-sik plays a truly terrifying serial killer as Jang Kyung-chul. Narcissistic and without remorse, Kyung-chul is the perfect foil for Soo-hyun. He’s a villain that almost feels real, despite the more surreal moments of the film. Kyung-chul could be a man driving a school bus on a spring day or working at the local grocery store. However, he’s smarter than he looks and thus more dangerous.
As far as the scares and gore in I Saw The Devil, there’s an abundance of the latter and a fair amount of the former. This film’s horror is more of the physical kind as the violence is supposed to make the viewer question if they want to be on Soo-hyun’s side for the entire duration.
There’s plenty of bloodshed to make anyone squirm. The scares are more of the jump variety, but the story progresses so that nothing is seen coming. As glorious as it all may be, some viewers may feel divided on whether it’s too excessive and may feel that it bogs down the central story and themes. It’s a fair split and I Saw The Devil is still enjoyable either way, though there’s a chance that the viewer may miss the juicier nuances.
Not only is I Saw The Devil a great horror movie, but it’s also a great film in general. Fantasizing about revenge is common for anyone who ever imagines being hurt or wronged, but no other movie with vengeance as its central theme goes as deep as this one to show the true costs.
Horror fans should give this film a watch. It’s free on Vudu with ads and also available on Amazon Prime. I Saw The Devil is by far one of the best revenge films you’re likely to see.
I Saw The Devil (2010) Official Trailer