Whenever I see a negative review of "I Saw the Devil", the critic always mentions (scornfully) that the movie is ultra violent and portrays women in horrifying circumstances. Yes it is, and yes it does.
But this isn't a Hollywood slasher flick. The kills in this movie are not gratifying and aren't meant to be. The women being killed are not scantily clad models running through forests from men wearing masks. There is nothing pleasant or "cool" about these scenes; they make the viewer uncomfortable, they unsettle, they bring one's mind into very dark places. It gives us a peek into the madness that every man is capable of, and does so realistically and without pulling its punches. This brutal realism makes people uncomfortable, and prompts negative reviews. This is understandable, but unfortunate. I believe that a movie should be judged on more than the amount of blood the viewer is comfortable seeing on-screen. To these people, please, do not watch Korean revenge thrillers if you are uncomfortable with torture or blood.
But enough of that rambling. This movie is excellent. Beautiful cinematography contrasts the stark, dimly lit scenes where the murders, or gritty fight scenes, occur. The camera work is simple but effective; the viewer is often treated to close-ups of both Byung-hun Lee and Mik-sik Choi, and their facial expressions tell us more than dialogue ever could. There is also contrast between Lee and Choi. Lee, clean and stoic, and Choi, filthy and madly expressive. They compliment each other very well, and play off of each others strengths effectively.
The story itself is typical of revenge films, but fantastic in its execution. Lee's character experiences a profound loss at the hands of Choi's character, and in the process of seeking revenge begins to resemble the man he so hates. The line between "victim" and "aggressor" becomes blurred between both characters. This is where the film shines. There is no black and white in "I Saw the Devil"; the viewer is left with shades of grey.
As for the acting, it was all done very well. As I mentioned, Lee and Choi work well together, and all supporting cast members did an excellent job. Choi portrays his character in an incredibly convincing manner, shifting suddenly from calmness to manic anger, but never in a way that feels unnatural or forced. Lee's character is quiet and much less expressive, but he does very well in showing immense amounts of emotion through just his eyes or subtle movements of his body. A memorable performance from them both.
As for flaws, the only thing I can think of is the strange, perhaps unrealistic behaviour of the police. Lee is a member of the NIS, and is very skilled when it comes to remaining hidden, but that shouldn't make him untouchable when directly provoking police officers or driving on the wrong side of the street. Still, though, it's a very trivial complaint that isn't worth a deducted point.
A confident 10/10 from me. If you are comfortable seeing serial murder portrayed realistically, and are able to appreciate more than just gore, please, do yourself a favour and watch this film.
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