Sunday, May 8, 2011

I repeately maimed the Devil

Revenge has never been more merciless or repetitive in I SAW THE DEVIL, a new film from South Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim. It's a simple game of cat and mouse, taken to uncompromising extremes of violence and hatred.

A brutal serial killer (Min-sik Choi, of OLD BOY) approaches attractive and helpless women in the dead of winter night. He drives a small bus for school children but hidden in his vehicle is a tool that represents his real intentions. His latest victim is the a woman in a car that has a flat tire. Her husband is a cop (Byung hun-Lee) who is given much time off by his superior to grieve after her grisly death. He only requests two weeks, not to mourn, but to avenge. He sets off to track down the man responsible. But killing him isn't satisfying enough. He must stalk him, beat him, cause him injury and then let the son of a bitch live so he can do it over and over.

I SAW THE DEVIL is a clear cut revenge story, told in direct and horrific fashion. The violence and gore is pervasive and relentless. The cop is so single minded, even sloppy and irresponsible, in his mission that he allows his target to suffer and even get away to claim more innocent victims. Min-sik Choi gives a powerful performance as the sick deviant who plays it quiet and creepy in his first scene only to reveal himself through out the film as a mad, repellent pig who first needs to intimidate his victims before exacting unspeakable action. Think Anton Chigurh from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN crossed with Frank Booth in BLUE VELVET. On the opposite end is Byung hun-Lee who does a good job embodying pent up rage coupled with a selfish agenda of seeing his enemy bleed and moan in pain. His family members speak to the cop over the phone, pleading him to stop his endless game of vengeance. "Revenge is for the movies." his sister in law tells him.

Director Jee-woon kim has a lot of style to spare. Even the sound editing adds to the atmosphere of unforgiving dread. There's a shot of a mass murder in the film done at 360 degrees that represents how far this film is willing to go to portray how truly evil it's villain is. But what stops this movie short of greatness is the thin plot and characters that lack depth. The rampant scenes of violence are impressively handled but they become repetitive after a short while. There's only so many way to beat someone over the head with a fire hydrant. With a two hour plus run time, it manages to be well paced and engaging but a more complex story with more insight into the characters would have been welcome. Still, I SAW THE DEVIL delivers frenetic thrills through masterful filmmaking that proves why South Korea is a force to reckoned with in the world of genre cinema.

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