Are you willing to become the very thing that you're trying to stop? In the case of, I Saw The Devil that thing would be a vicious, cold-blooded killer. I can not believe it took me so long to finally see this movie but here we are and I might be slightly traumatized.
NIS agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), is on the phone with his fiance Joo-yun, who happens to be stranded on the side of the snowy road with a flat tire, waiting for a tow-truck. He's a man that is always busy with work but naturally, he's concerned about Joo-yun's well being. An older man in a school shuttle van drives up and offers to help Joo-yun in her situation, but after being told that his help wouldn't be needed, he attacks Joo-yun and takes her back to his, for lack of a better word, lair. What takes place here is pretty much horrific and shows us that this killer is next level crazy. As the police begin the search for Joo-yun, her father, retired police chief Jang (Jeon Gook-hwan) and Soo-hyun arrive to the scene and are overwhelmed at the reality of what has happened to their Joo-yun. Soo-hyun takes some time away from work and together with chief Jang, compile a list of suspects. One-by-by, Soo-hyun begins to hunt these individuals down, coming up empty-handed until he learns about Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), a school academy bus driver that's estranged from his parents and his own son. Kyung-chul takes women, who tend to be alone, and brutally rapes and murders them. When police Section Chief Oh (Chun Ho-jin) and his team also catch on to Kyung-chul, they try to bust him as he drives a shuttle full of school girls home. Kyung-chul knows that he's been discovered and before he can assault a young schoolgirl, Soo-hyun shows up and the two have an intense confrontation. Seemingly getting the upper hand, Soo-hyun doesn't kill Kyung-chul and doesn't hand him over to the police, but instead shoves a tracker down his throat, leaving him to ponder why he's still alive. From here, we have a game of cat-and-mouse where the protagonist is doing the torturing and the chasing deliberately, just to show Kyung-chul that he can get to him anytime he wants. However, as you can imagine when dealing with someone so dangerous, Soo-hyun get's a little too confident and prey gets away, leaving his loved ones exposed and at risk.
I'm a big fan of director Kim Jee-won (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life), and I honestly don't know why I never watched I Saw The Devil until now. I think it was just a matter of, "I'll get around to it" and then life got in the way. I'm so glad it came across my radar again because I Saw The Devil is one of those films that reminds you of how hard Korea can go. I'm not easily shocked by films but there were moments here where I thought, "My God, this is hardcore." So yeah, it's not for the squeamish but if you can stomach it, there is so much pleasure in watching the tables turn on a villain as evil as Kyung-chul. It turns into a situation where you know that what Soo-hyun is doing isn't morally right and quite frankly, illegal. But you look past it (at least I did) because the movie does such a great job of putting you in the middle of his pain both in large part of Lee Byung-hun's fantastic and subdued performance and in the graphic nature of Kyung-chul's behavior. You want this monster stopped almost as much as Soo-hyun does. At 141 minutes, I never felt like the movie was dragging and the pacing keeps you glued to the screen the entire time. The only moments where I felt like maybe the film was going too far in trying to shock was when Kyung-chul meets up with his friend Tae-joo (Choi Moo-sung), who has a cannibalistic nature. He was a bit over-the-top for me and that whole scene tried dragging the movie more into the surreal and almost felt comical.
I definitely think I Saw The Devil is a polarizing movie. Some will say, "How can you even watch a movie like that?" and there will be those that love it because it's extreme. More than that however, the performances by our two leads are amazing, the tension is real and how things play out will really keep you guessing. Yes, the content is graphic but it shouldn't be defined by it and to be honest I was only half-joking about being traumatized. (Lee)