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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

TIFF Review: I Saw the Devil

I was on my way to the Susanne Bier film today when a couple of friends talked me into going to see I Saw the Devil instead. I asked one of them to quickly pitch me on why I would want to see it, and he pitched it thusly: Did you like The Good, The Bad, The Weird? This is a serial killer thriller flick by the same director, Ji-woon Kim, and it stars “The Bad” (Byung-hun Lee), and Min-sik Choi, the guy from Oldboy!

Well, hell, that sold me. And I’m so glad I ran into my friends and saw this film, because it Rocked. My. World.

Here’s the caveat: this film is unrelentingly gory, even in the cut version we saw, which I understand is missing several minutes that are, if that’s possible, even more graphic. So if you are the type to freak out over gallons of fake blood and graphic violence in a film, stay away. Because this film is as intense as, say Silence of the Lambs, only much bloodier and more graphic. The program description compares it to Park Chan-wook‘s Sympathy for Lady Vengeance; you’ll have to take their word for it, because I haven’t seen that film.

I’ll add to that, though, that the violence and gore in the film, while not what I would call restrained, is never without a purpose, and while the violence of the serial killer is directed toward women I wouldn’t call the film misogynistic (though I expect some feminists will disagree with me on that).

Now, if you can get past the graphic violence, this is an excellently crafted film, an intense story with relevant philosophical underpinnings meditating on the nature of man, good versus evil and the thin line between them, and whether there is redemption to be found in seeking revenge. It’s smartly written and tautly directed by a director who knows exactly what he’s doing in every frame. And while it may seem like heresy to say this, I’d put Mik-sik’s Jang Kyung-chul right up there with Anthony Hopkins‘ Hannibal Lecter. Yes, I’m serious.

Min-sik plays a violent, sadistic rapist and serial killer who preys on young women while driving a bright yellow school bus. He is, in short, batshit crazy and terrifying, cold and sinister, evil — or perhaps the Devil? — personified. He’s been killing for a very long time, and he hasn’t been caught, although police have suspected him in the past. Then he kills the pregnant daughter of the local police chief, who just happens to be engaged Joo-yeon (Byung-Hyun), a secret agent.

In one of the best orchestrated, most intense scenes you’re likely to see in any thriller, ever, the daughter’s head is found during a massive police search. The chief and Joo-yeon flip out, and Joo-yeon decides to take a leave from work, find her killer, and punish him relentlessly for the pain he’s caused.

What ensues over the next two hours is a descent into both the madness of the serial killer and the slide into madness of our hero; will Joo-yeon become a monster as bad as the one he’s hunting, once he gets a taste for torturing his prey?

That’s what it’s about, in a nutshell, and yet I cannot come close to describing to you just how well it’s all put together. But I’ll try, if only to convince you, even if you’re sure you’re not a fan of the genre, to check this film out.

So: The production design and cinematography are beautiful; the editing tight and controlled; the framing of shots and cuts from one shot to the next deliberate, artistic, painted in a tonally perfect palette as if brushed on a canvas — or perhaps more accurately, as if rendered by a very good artist in a graphic novel, which is what the film evoked for me.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea of a film being both relentlessly gory and relentlessly gorgeous, but this film is just stunning in every respect. The powerful score excellently underscores the film tonally throughout without ever being overwhelming or manipulative of the audience (the same was true of The Good, The Bad, The Weird), and the sound mixing stands out as well.

The performances by the two leads, as they circle each other warily, hunter and prey, are compelling and spot-on. Ji-woon is a director of the highest order; I would say, in fact, that he is an auteur with a very specific stylistic sensibility to his films. He is undeniably a master of the design, tone, and emotional tether of his films, and with I Saw the Devil he owns you from the opening moments of the film to its explosive end. Highly, highly recommended.

10 Responses to “TIFF Review: I Saw the Devil”

  1. Lika says:

    Thank you for an excellent review! It is a really great film. But I just want to correct the name of Lee Byung-Hun’s character. It’s Soo-Hyun, not Joo-Yeon. Joo-Yeon is the name of the fiancee.

  2. Allan says:

    Great film but a tad too long! There were some parts that didn’t add to the story…

  3. Kim Voynar says:

    Lika, are you quite sure? The IMDb credits are incomplete, so I was working off the official TIFF guide, which lists the agent character as Joo-Yeon. I’m not saying you’re not right … I saw five films that day and by the time I wrote up the review I had to go off what I had to work with for that. But if I got it wrong, so did the TIFF guide. :-)

    If you are correct, then mea culpa.

  4. JaneSpotting says:

    Since you missed it, Susanne Bier’s film was gorgeously shot, a wonderful film exploring many emotions, like forgiveness and revenge.
    If you have a chance to catch another screening, do not pass it by.

  5. Kim Voynar says:

    JS, Yeah I hear that and was totally bummed I missed it. If I can catch it, I will.

  6. Miyoung says:

    Yeah. Lika is right. Byung hun Lee’s character is Soo-hyun Kim. I’m a Korean. The guide has some wrong imformation.

  7. Miyoung says:

    And….. you saw the movie, so I think you’re supposed to blame yourself at first not the TIFF guide for the mistake. But I like your review very much:)

  8. Kim Voynar says:

    When you’re seeing five movies a day (that’s 10+ hours of screenings) back-to-back and then writing at least four hours a day on top of that for over a week, screwing up a character name, honestly, is not something I’m about to beat myself up over. That’s why fests have film info on their sites, publicists (the good ones, at least) are there handing out press kits, and why the folks who make the movie need to have their IMDb pages updated. Critics rely on that info to be accurate.

    So, mea culpa on the name. The film still rocked my world, regardless. It’s one of the best at TIFF this year.

  9. Archilinio says:

    thank you. Can’t wait this film come on DVD to see it ! Because of directors like Kim, Bong and Park I always feel South Korea as my second country !

  10. John says:

    An absolutely brilliant movie. Beautifully crafted, it does a very good job of taking the standpoint, that revenge is not always the straight forward, cut and dry act that it’s nearly always portrayed as being.

    While it’s true that this movie is unrelenting gory, the scenes of violence always play their part in the telling and evolution of the story. Both lead actors bring about an intensity, that at times is spine-tingling and unnervingly beautiful.

    If your a lover of film… then i would definitely recommend this to you.. you will not be disappointed!

    9/10

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Dear Irene Cho, I will miss your energy and passion; your optimism and joy; your kindness towards friends, colleagues, strangers, struggling filmmakers, or anyone who randomly crossed your path and needed a hand. My brothers and I have long considered you another sibling in our family. Our holiday photos – both western and eastern – have you among all the cousins, in-laws, and kids… in the snow, sun, opening presents, at large dinner gatherings, playing Monopoly, breaking out pomegranate seeds and teaching us all how to dance Gangnam style. Your friendship and loyalty meant a great deal to me: you were the loudest cheerleader when I experienced victories and you were always ready with sushi when I had disappointments. You had endless crazy ideas which always seemed impossible but you would will them into existence. (Like that time you called me and suggested that we host a brunch for newly elected mayor of LA, Eric Garcetti because “he is going to president one day.” We didn’t have enough time or funding, of course, only your desire to do it. So you did, and I followed.) You created The Daily Buzz from nothing and it survived on your steam in spite of many setbacks because you believed in a platform for emerging filmmakers from all nations. Most of all, you were a wonderful mother to your son, Ethan, a devoted wife to your husband, and a wonderful sibling and daughter to your family. We will all miss how your wonderful smile and energy lit up the room and our lives. Rest in peace, Irene.
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“For the last three decades I’ve been making movies, I’ve been living, I’ve been observing the world. You become a different person, so basically my perspective on the world in general is very different and I hope that with every movie I make a step forward. I kind of hope I’m a better person, and hopefully a better filmmaker and hopefully try to… It’s very hard for me to go back to a different time when I would have different values in my relationship to filmmaking. I had a stiffer notion of cinema.”
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