I Saw The Devil (Akmareul boattda) - Reviewed by Miss Twisted
Described to me as a "Sexually explicit crime thriller containing mild (which means none at all by my standards) horror" I shrugged with indifference when this "cat and mouse serial killer thriller" was first brought to my attention. With the running time being two hours and twenty butt numbing minutes it seemed more 'tortoise and hare' than 'feline and rodent', so I mentally filed it on the 'maybe one day list'!
It was a couple of months later when this title was recommended to me again, this time by someone who shares very similar tastes to myself. Running it through a search engine I noticed a news link about Choi Min-Siks latest movie. Now for those of you who don't know, I consider Min Sik Choi (as I prefer to call him) to be nothing short of an acting god and would happily jump through hoops and off cliff tops if he personally asked me to. Now aware of his presence in the movie I read on... With words like 'controversial' and 'disturbing' jumping out at me I started to get really interested. And even though its length seemed a little indulgent, watching my Min Sik Choi for that long more than evened things up!!
Despite not jumping at this movie initially, director Kim Ji-Woon has pleased me many times since I discovered his 1998 debut 'The Quiet Family' (also starring Choi Min-Sik). I have often believed his success is not just because of his brilliant directing, but because he has also written the screenplay for all his movies... Until this one.
I Saw The Devil was written by Park Hoon-Jung, a relatively new and unknown screenwriter (let's hope he has plenty more of this quality to come!).
Kim Ji-Woons fans need not fear this unusual for him movie making approach as this one off attempt (success??) at adapting another persons script, was purely coincidental! He was approached by my man Choi Min-Sik, script ready in hand, just as Kim Ji-Woons current film project was delayed by a year. He loved the script, but was concerned he wouldn't find Choi Min-Siks character a worthy opponent... And then once again, right on cue, just days later he found himself sat beside Lee Byung-Hun at a premiere only to discover he too had hit a twelve month filming delay. Having previously worked together on releases such as 'A Bittersweet Life' and 'The Good, The Bad and The Weird' everything seemed to have fallen into place.
The casting is one of the key elements that make this movie as good as it is. Both male leads are quite simply astounding.
Choi Min-Siks role is one I will rank highly for some time. A systematic and organised serial killer perfectly blended with a cold hearted sexual predator who proves within his first few scenes that not only does he clearly enjoy this deep rooted cruelty, but that he is also very experienced at it. Perhaps annoyingly to some, we are given very few clues about his past. But it should be understood that the emphasis is on the 'now' and the 'what next', rather than the more commonly used 'then' and 'why'. It works well for me!
Lee Byung-Hun plays a National Secret Service Agent who's pregnant fiancee becomes the latest victim of the prolific serial killer. The agent is guilt ridden that his career knowledge and skills could not protect his family to be. His anguish turns to anger and we quickly see him pursuing brutally brilliant acts of vengeance. The hunter becomes the hunted. The line between good and evil smudges and fades. My feelings for the serial killer bounce from repulsion and pity and back again several times. I Saw The Devil really pushes the concept of 'cat and mouse' to its graphic limits. Very little is hidden from view and even when things have had to be edited out it is done in a way that is as psychologically violent as it is visually and all the more effective for it. The background music plays a huge part in this hypnotic effect. Operatic crescendos are used to heighten your emotions, before soft classical notes lull you back into a false, yet sentimental security, tricking your mood to not anticipate the next dramatic crescendo. This movie really does put you on an emotional rollercoaster with no hint of when or where it will turn next.
The credits actually came around fast... (surely that wasn't really two hours and twenty minutes?!?! I didn't even get the chance to fart with all that excitement let alone dunk a biscuit!!)...And I found myself hunting websites for special edition DVD release dates...
There are two main things that make I Saw The Devil just a little bit special in my eyes. First and most obvious is that this is the first main role for Min Sik Chois after three years off screen in protest over the Korean screen quota system. That alone makes me pee a little with excitement! However, the main reason I have jaw dropping respect here is that this movie was cut, re cut and cut again before the Korean Media Ratings Board allowed it a theatrical release, yet it STILL left a nice graphic smear stamped across my brain. And THAT is the real defining factor for this movie. So much had to be chopped away to meet release criteria. Usually that would irritate me to the point of disliking a feature, purely on that basis. But, with I Saw The Devil it isn't about the parts that had to be cruelly discarded. Its about the awesome story that is left. A stark warning that in order to kill the devil you must first become him yourself.
This flick won't suit some people for sure, but I think its pretty flippin' amazin' and has earned itself a comfortable place in my personal collection.
- Miss Twisted is happy! -
Runtime: 141 mins
Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi.