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March 24, 2011

I Saw the Devil

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Akmareul boatda
Kim Jee-woon - 2010
Magnet Releasing 35mm Film

It took me a while to realize that what I was looking at was a rear view mirror, the kind that drivers use to see what's behind them. This mirror had some kind of side lamps. During the day these lamps look like angel wings. The first shot in I Saw the Devil is looking past the female driver through the windshield at night. The lights on the rear view mirror look like eyes, and the visible wiper blade looks like some kind of mouth. It looked like some kind of evil face to me, in a kind of abstract way. Then again, in I Saw the Devil, the question is who exactly is the devil, and who's doing the looking?

A serial killer's victim is the fiancee of a secret service agent. The woman is the daughter of a police chief. Kim Soo-heon finds out from the police chief the identity of four main suspects. After easily tracking down, and injuring the first two suspects, Soo-heon finds that the person he wants is Jang Kyung-Chul. Kim has made a promise that Jang is to suffer to the same degree as his fiancee. What Kim learns is that no matter how far he goes, it's never far enough. In one scene, Kim appears to be looking at himself in a car mirror, a suggestion that the devil he sees is himself.

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Some of the previous writing on this film has emphasized the horror aspects. And yes, the scenes of brutality are vicious, intentionally so. To some extent, I Saw the Devil is a thriller in the vein of Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, mostly smart and serious. Even before he does anything, there is a sense of dread and revulsion seeing Jang on the job as a bus driving for some high school girls home.

But beyond those particular chills, there is the thrill of the pursuit. Kim Jee-woon is filming his English language debut film now, an action film, and I Saw the Devil may indicate what we're in for. Part of the excitement is watching cars in hot pursuit, with one scene with Soo-heon deliberately opening and knocking off the passenger side door while driving at hight speed, so he can grab Jang from the street. In the filming of sheer, adrenaline rush inducing action, a favorable comparison can be made with past filmmakers like William Friedkin and Peter Yates.

And again, for the more contemplative viewer, it is this visceral excitement that raises more questions. Soo-heon acts in ways that make him little different from Jang, and yet one can be so caught up watching the putative good guy taking down the acknowledged bad guy. Several characters ask Soo-heon to stop his cat and mouse games with Jang, even declaring both men to be monsters. There is some casting shorthand at work here with the star of Oldboy, Choi Min-sik, as Jang, and Lee Byung-hun, known most recently as "The Bad" of Kim's The Good, the Bad and the Weird, as Soo-heon. It is intense and not a little violent, and save for some extreme moments, the kind of film Hollywood use to make so well when they were making movies for adults.

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Posted by peter at March 24, 2011 08:06 AM