Director: Kim Ji-woon
Writer: Park Hoon-Jung
Cinematographer: Lee Mo-Gae
Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Oh San-Ha, Jeon Kuk-Hwan
Studio/Runtime: Magnet Releasing/141 min.
It’s possible for revenge-horror movies to be something more than pure sadism. The Kill Bill movies, for instance, had the same basic revenge plotline without becoming a disgusting mess of violent sexism. But for the most part, from Last House on the Left onward it’s a genre that’s pretty abysmal, with cheap horror elements derived from bigotry and intolerance in the worst possible way. Unfortunately I Saw the Devil continues this less than grand tradition, offering up more meaningless violence in the name of “justice.”
The film begins with the death of a woman at the hands of a serial killer (Choi Min-sik, best-known for Oldboy) in his torture cave, which causes her fiance to go on a quest for her murderer. Here, perhaps, comes the flick’s one real twist, in that the investigation for this serial killer is pretty short-lived. He’s quickly found by the film’s protagonist (Lee Byung-hun), a police officer following every cliche in the book by going rogue, who then tortures him and slips him a transmitter pill so that he can be followed. Then Byung-hun let’s the murderer go. From this point on it’s just a matter of repetition, wherein the serial killer commits fairly random acts of violence that the officer then puts a stop to through more torture. This happens again and again, padding out this tiny story into nearly two and a half hours.
There’s little actually frightening in the film, either, it’s simply about the violence, edging towards the area of torture-porn without ever quite getting there. Director Kim Ji-woon (The Good, the Bad and the Weird) gives everything a slick coating, and he’s clearly far more interested in creating realistic violence than he is in compelling characters. While Min-sik’s a good enough actor to make it seem like there must be something more to his character, the script doesn’t give him enough to work with. For the most part the cast consists less of people and more of of bodies waiting to be abused.
Even as far as the genre goes, I Saw the Devil feels like it’s just coasting. Its ideas about the cyclical nature of retributive violence were old in film 30 years ago, and while the movie is never clumsy in its execution, it spends a good hour and a half just spinning its wheels. Horror aficionados may appreciate some of its stagings and detail, but for anyone seeking more than just meaningless blood and guts being spewed there’s no reason to give I Saw the Devil a look.