I Saw The Devil (2010) - Akmareul Boatda (original title) What a story of revenge and the price you can pay for it, or how sometimes the revenge we plan does not turn out the way we thought it would. Director Jee-woon Kim has been involved with several things this writer knows, the segment in "3 Extremes II" called "Memories", the soon to be reviewed "A Tale of Two Sisters" and this very good film. This is at its heart a revenge film with a good dose of horror and action and some unexpected twists. One of the things I liked about the directing was the use of slow motion and silence at times to portray the emotions of the moment, Jee-woon Kim does a fine job creating an unexpectedly harsh and heartfelt story. Of course the skill shown in the directors chair is complemented by a good script by new writer Hoon-jung Park. So lets get into more of the film instead of just blowing the writer and director.
This is the revenge story of Kim Soo-hyeon(Byung-hun Lee) who is happily married to the beautiful Joo-yeon (San-ha Oh). She early in the film is attacked and kidnapped from her car by serial killer Kyung-chul. Played by the incredible actor Min-sik Choi (Lady Vengeance, Oldboy) Kyung-chul is a relentlessly evil bastard with the ego and fortitude to carry this film by himself, but there was no need. Lead Byung-hun Lee as Kim is equally bad ass on the side of vengeance and is a partner equal to the task of making this film a drag out brawl between good and evil. When Joo-yeon's body is found, Kim an intelligence service agent springs into action to get his own form of justice from the perpetrator of the murder. Narrowed to four suspects by police chief Jang (Gook-hwan Jeon), father to Joo-yeon, Kim begins a harsh and violent tracking from one suspect to the next in an effort to find his wife's killer. He is a skilled agent and uses his skills to their violent fullest. When he comes across Kyung-chul's parents and son he knows enough to ask the son where his father lives. From this he soon learns the mans' occupation as a driver for an all girls school. No CORI checks in this town. Since the son knows where his father works it tells us something about that relationship. There is one anyhow and Kyung-chul has separated his need to kill from his family. Still it is the piece of information that Kim needed to track him down. When he arrives at the man's house he finds in locked drawers the remains of women, not body parts but the clothes and accessories. He knows he has found the killer. Discovering the slaughter room in the drain on the floor he find Joo-yeon's wedding ring the match for his own. It is an excellent moment in the film where he gets to grieve and commit himself to catching up to the bastard Kyung-chul.
The other half of the film follows the killer as he continues his reign of terror on the community. We see another abduction and murder. The poor woman talked into taking the ride at night after he tells her the buses have stopped. How quickly he turns on her and smashes her with a pipe. It is not just that he smashes her, he takes his time to find the pipe behind the seat, then shows it to her. He wants his victims to feel the fear before he harms them. It is part of what gets him off, his control of their emotions. When she wakes naked and violated he is preparing the guillotine he will use to cut her body up. We get a fuller picture of this guy, the nudity of the women, because he likes to rape them, the cutting instruments to cut the bodies into small pieces. When when he realizes he has been made he goes from hidden killer to psychopath in the open callously striking at anyone and everyone. As he drives his charges home he takes the last sleeping girl as a prize and goes on the run to another safe house.
Of course with Kim Soo-hyeon on his trail he is no longer safe, so even this standby house is not hidden for long. Interrupted in raping the school girl he sees Kim across the green house. The two square off with Kim weaponless and Kyung with two blades. We are already sitting with knowledge from the earlier scenes that both men are bad asses, but quickly it becomes evident who is the badder ass. Kim kicks the shit out of him, what would be the perfect final battle between the vengeful husband and the man who killed his wife. This though is a movie of twists and the first twist happens here. When Kim gets his revenge he leaves the broken armed Kyung a bloody heap in the ditch he dug to bury his latest victim. When Kyung wakes he is alone with an envelop of cash at his side. WTF?
So the movie proper begins with the realization that this is not over until Kim says it is over. He lets this bastard of a killer free to create even more terror while so he can continue to track and beat the man. It is quite an interesting turn. Can the writer and director make the killer the sympathetic character? Will the continued hunt change the vengeful Kim into the devil he is tracking and punishing? How will it end and will the plan Kim has put in place possibly work to relieve his grief? This reviewers head was spinning at this point in the movie. As regular readers know I would be the vengeful person and hold sympathies there. This film challenges the ability to hold that position and in doing so makes the film all the more compelling.
At this point you think you have this film figured out and for a while you do. There is more Kyung-chul cruelty and rampage through the countryside. Then Kim shows up and beats the living tar out of him again and you think this can not go on forever. Kyung is not the run of the mill psycho though and his abilities are more than just being evil. We learn so much more about the killer. What his motivations are and how his grandiose opinion of himself will dictate his actions. When the next twist comes the audience in Korean theaters must have been blown away. This reviewer was in awe of the shift just sitting at home. The ante continued up until the final scene. That twist turns the tables on Kim in a way I will not mention here. It is to you to go get this film and see for yourselves. When that sequence is done and there is only one movement left. How will our hero get back on top. It is a final twist worth the effort of watching this engrossing if slightly too long thriller. The acting is exception with Min-sik Choi turning in an amazing performance and Byung-hun Lee right behind him is style points. The music works well for most of the film with a few exception where it is over used in the action scenes. Because of all this I am rating this film on the high end, not only do I recommend it but I do so strongly.
Rating (8.5) 5.0 and up are recommended. Go see this movie!