I Saw the Devil

Movie Information

The Story: A Korean special police agent takes the law into his own hands when his fiancee is murdered by a serial killer. The Lowdown: Brutal, violent, disturbing revenge horror that's not for all tastes, but is nonetheless more than a mere "torture porn" horror picture.
Genre: Extremely Violent Revenge Horror Thriller
Director: Jee-Woon Kim (The Good, the Bad, the Weird)
Starring: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi, Gook-hwan Jeon, Ho-jin Jeon, San-ha Oh
Rated: NR

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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10 thoughts on “I Saw the Devil

  1. Ezekiel

    Also, I don’t see it listed in the Xpress movie times. Is it playing locally?

  2. Ken Hanke

    I’m sorry. It seems that the movie times didn’t get changed.

    The movie is subtitled and is playing at The Carolina at:

    12:30, 3:30, 7:00, 10:00

  3. Everyone please try to support Korean films in the theaters! They are our favorite country right with a slew of great films that have come out already.

    This one will be on dvd by the end of May, but if you must stay home, check out MAN FROM NOWHERE, another excellent Korean film that was just released.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Maybe you shoulda said something sooner, because this tanked and will be gone come Friday.

    I’m not sure that people really understand that with a marginal title like this, it’s essential that it gets supported opening weekend, because the decision to drop it or keep is made by Mon. morning. After that, it’s history.

  5. Mike

    Is it possible the graphic content was a reason this performed so poorly? I’m a bit desensitized to this sort of thing having “gone down the rabbit hole” of the worst cinema has to offer long ago, but can imagine the usual art house film goer being completely turned off by the prospect of excessive gore.

    Also, how have other South Korean films done in the past, specifically The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, Thirst, and Mother? I eat this stuff up and love the fact that The Carolina books it.

    Great flick by the way. Kim shoots action as well as anyone right now – the bit with the cannibal clan rivaled the bazaar shoot-out and desert chase scenes in Weird for sheer excitement value; no small feat.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Is it possible the graphic content was a reason this performed so poorly?

    I’m certain it plays a large role, and it makes it the kind of film that isn’t helped much by anything I say in its favor, since — let’s face it — my largest readership is probably among that “art house” group you reference. And, yes, they do tend to be put off by violence and gore. (I once had someone complain that I’d recommended that “sickeningly violent” Kung Fu Hustle.)

    On the other hand, there’s the problem that a lot of the action/gore/violence crowd don’t want a two-and-a-half-hour subtitled movie.

    Also, how have other South Korean films done in the past, specifically The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, Thirst, and Mother?

    The Good, the Bad, the Weird tanked. Thirst tanked even more. Mother, however, did surprisingly well. In fact, it’s the only Korean movie I’ve seen draw an audience here. I was really hoping we’d turned a corner with it — that people were ready to give these movies a chance — but I Saw the Devil suggests maybe not. Of course, it is a lot more grisly than Mother.

  7. john r

    I saw “The Good, the Bad and the Weird” on Justin’s recommendation one evening after the Thursday night horror movie, and was impressed with it. I hope that eventually these films will get enough momentum to sustain a screen being devoted to their showings.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think there’s enough Asian cinema to support a dedicated screen, but I’d sure like to see them get some decent support the ones that do. I haven’t given up. Goodness knows, it’s only been in the past few years that Asheville would support more than the absolutely biggest crossover movies that had subtitles.

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