Tuesday, April 5, 2011


It's very rare these days (for me anyway) to see a movie that actually inspires me.

Once in a great while, I'll see something that makes me remember why I signed on to be a film major in the first place, remind me what I loved about movies when I was 19 and had the whole world at my fingertips. It rarely happens, but when it does, it's a great feeling. Those are the movies that make me want to break out the camera or fire up Final Draft and get to work making my own.

I SAW THE DEVIL was one of those movies.

It's a relatively straight-forward revenge flick (as far as plot devices go) but the execution and the performances took it to a whole new level.

The entire film rests in the capable hands of OLDBOY's Min-sik Choi who plays Kyung-Chul, a deranged serial killer who gets off on kidnapping, degrading, torturing and killing women. He has such a charisma about him and is almost the perfect anti-thesis of what a typical movie serial killer should be that he's fascinating every time he's on screen. Anyone that knows me knows how much I hate the silly obsession people have with serial killers, which is why I hate most movies about them, but I SAW THE DEVIL was different. Much, much different.

The movie employs a trend that could be a terrible idea in less capable hands of using the villain as the protagonist. Kyung-Chul is a far more interesting character than the "good guy" that's hunting him, specially trained secret agent Soo-hyeon Kim (Byung-hun Lee). He's so charismatic and such a joy to watch that he's the perfect foil for Kim's straight-forward, mostly emotionless character.

That's not to say that Agent Kim isn't completely awesome, though. He has a fiercly determined drive and his cold, deadpan demeanor is the polar opposite of his counterpart.

A lot of what makes this movie great is the way that director Ji-woon Kim shoots it. He's masterful at building tension with long, tightly-framed takes that make the disturbing scenes more intimate than they should be. He doesn't shy away from showing anything and there are a few instances when you hope the scene is nearly over only to have it take another turn for the worst.

The most fascinating aspect of the movie is whether or not you agree with the concept of justice replaced by revenge (I'm a hardcore kid at heart and if you got that joke, then you are too). Every time Kim lets Kyung-Chul walk free to satisfy his twisted retribution and another innocent life is lost, it warrants the question of "is it worth it?"

In real life, no, it isn't. In real life Agent Kim makes one bad decision after another and his dedication to making Kyung-Chul pay for what he's done repeatedly backfires.

But I SAW THE DEVIL is not real life. It's the story of a man so overcome with grief he has no idea where the line is or how long ago he crossed it. But it has been crossed and the only way to finish it is to go further into the abyss.

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