When his fiancé becomes the latest victim in a series of murders, secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon sets out on a journey of revenge like no other. He hunts down the killer, Kyung-chul, but decides that death would simply be too merciful. Instead, he fatally wounds the murderer, heals him, and lets him go. After successfully instilling a tracking device in the killer’s stomach, Kim Soo-hyeon is then able to track Kyung-chul, and randomly appears to repeat the same drawn-out torment. By taking his time to play out his revenge, he finds a punishment that is arguably worse than death. In turn, he reverses the roles previously established in the film, morphing the foreboding hunter into the prey, and himself into the hunter.
Many films in the horror industry exhibit a tale of revenge, but Hoon-jung Park wrote an exemplary screenplay that stands out from the crowd by playing a game of catch and release, rather than capture and torture. Soon, it seems that Soo-hyeon is just as frightening as the serial killer he’s toying with. At first, Soo-hyeon’s special type of taunting feels justified for the horrid crimes that Kyung-chul has committed. As time goes on, however, his original intentions become murky, as he ignores his fiancé’s families pleads for him to stop, and innocent people pay for his negligence.
I Saw the Devil is an inventive illustration of payback that questions morality in the face of emotional attachment. How far should one be allowed to go to avenge what he or she has lost? Can vengeance relieve a broken heart? And exactly how much torment does one have to unleash to be rid of his or her sorrow?
Director Jee-woon Kim created an environment that manages to be cool and creepy at the same time. Many horror films tend to stick to a dark palette in order to further portray the unmentionable happenings that have taken place. However, I Saw the Devil is filled with colorful imagery, making each scene as beautiful as it is gruesome. Visual touches, like the winged mirror in the killer’s vehicle, the soft, angelic snow that becomes permeated with an innocent girl’s blood, provide an interesting contradiction between the violence and the setting, that together, create a fascinating and gorgeous story that demands attention.
Min-sik Choi is without a doubt, one of the greatest actors in film today. His ability to disappear into his roles always ensures a mesmerizing performance. Whether he’s Oh Dae-su from Oldboy, Mr. Baek from Lady Vengeance, or Kyung-chul from I Saw the Devil, he becomes the person he portrays, and oozes with raw emotion that’s awe-inspiring. The casting department could not have picked a better actor to play his opponent, Kim Soo-hyeon. Byung-hun Lee, known to most for his role as Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, showed that he is not only a physical action star, but also a very worthy actor, capable of expressing a myriad of emotions. Collaboratively, Lee and Choi play off of each other to create an intense rivalry that’s tense and unpredictable.
Well-coordinated fight scenes, talented actors, a director who executes his vision perfectly, and an unusual approach to revenge make I Saw the Devil one of the best horror films to come out in recent history. Murder always incites vengeance, but is an eye for an eye really justified, or should one just try to move on with their life? After witnessing the crimes committed by both Soo-hyeon and Kyung-chul, the viewer will be left wondering, who is the devil?