Jee-Woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil is one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen—and that’s saying something—so I caution readers in advance that this is a very violent, very graphic, very bloody movie. If that bothers you, this is not a film you should see. I do think, however, that it needs to be noted that this is not mindless torture porn of the Hostel (2005) stripe, though it uses a not wholly dissimilar approach in its depiction of violence, and I Saw the Devil can rightly be called a horror movie. But Kim’s film is actually an examination of the capacity—the self-destroying capacity—for horrific actions inside all of us, especially when confronted with what can only be called pure evil. These are not new themes, but I’m not sure I’ve seen them presented quite this viscerally.
The story is relatively simple. When special agent Kim Soo-hyeon’s (Byung-hun Lee, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) pregnant fiancee is brutally murdered by serial killer Kyung-Chul (Min-sik Choi, Oldboy), the police agent becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer and punishing him personally. At first, Kyung-Chul is one of several suspects—all of whom find themselves on the receiving end of some revenge anyway—and it’s only after the killer is unquestionably pegged, that the full range of Soo-hyeon’s plan starts to be revealed. He isn’t just out to kill Kyung-Chul, but to torture and punish him—over and over. To this end, he forces a purloined GPS capsule down the man’s throat after beating him senseless. This way, he can keep track of his every action with seeming god-like omniscience.
There’s a price that others must pay for this, since Kyung-Chul is allowed to continue slaughtering various people he comes across. And there’s the price Soo-hyeon pays as his humanity slips away from him, as he turns himself into just as much of a monster as his quarry. What’s interesting—and a little troubling—about this is that while there’s never any sense that Soo-hyeon is enjoying his obsessive behavior as he catches up to, torments and tortures his prey—only to let him go so he can do it again—it’s difficult for the viewer not to side with him. In fact, we know what a monster Kyung-Chul is more than Soo-hyeon realizes, because we’ve watched the hunter/torturer in action.
The film takes several surprising turns along the way, including a purely horror movie detour into the world of Kyung-Chul’s cannibal friends, who are, I guess, the Korean equivalent of our own inbred hillbilly cannibals, but with better housekeeping skills. This isn’t an easy film to watch, but it is a compelling, powerful one that is certainly worth seeing—assuming you’re up to it. Not Rated, but contains scenes of extreme violence, brutality and gore.