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I Saw the Devil

A movie directed by Jee-woon Kim

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Send A Monster To Catch A Monster..."Jason Bourne Hunts Down Hannibal Lecter"!!

  • May 12, 2011
Korean director Kim Ji-Woon has always been a film festival favorite and he has been one of Korea’s directors I follow religiously as with Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), Kim Ki-Duk (The Isle), Hong Sang-Soo (Woman On The Beach), Lee Chang-Dong (Secret Sunshine) and Ryu Seung-Wan (Arahan). Kim has always been the kind of filmmaker that always stuck to his own style but never has he sacrificed content for style. His “A Tale of Two Sisters” is still arguably the best horror film in the Korean new wave, “A Bittersweet Life” is a fantastic study of the Korean gangster, and “The Good The Bad The Weird” was a genre-busting extravaganza that combined the sensibilities of a Sergio Leone Western with the fun factor of an adventure film. Kim may be bombastic sometimes and maybe even extravagant, but no one can deny that he is one of Korea’s most successful directors and definitely one, if not the most versatile.

It is with this mindset that I went to buy the film “I Saw The Devil” and it promises to be one of the most violent films in Korean history. Kim goes into its premise with a very focused approach and those who wonder what would happen if Jason Bourne went after Hannibal Lecter may find an answer in this film with a small touch of “Oldboy“ and some “No Country For Old Men“ for good measure. This is the third collaboration between Kim and actor Lee Byung-Hun. (who also played Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe)


The film takes off immediately and Kim doesn’t hide the identity of the killer in the film’s first 8-10 minutes. A young woman named Joo-Yeon (played by Oh San-Ha) is kidnapped in a snowy highway when her car gets stuck in the snow. Brutally beaten and murdered by a man named Jang Kyung-Chul (Choi Min-Sik, Oldboy), this woman was also apparently engaged to a man named Kim Soo-Hyun (Lee Byung-Hun, A Bittersweet Life), a special agent with very special skills in hunting down and killing bad guys. Now, he is righteously pissed. He goes through the lists of suspects with ease (making them confess to their past crimes) until finally he finds proof that Jang is the cause of his grief. But just when he stops Jang from raping another female victim by beating him senseless, he decides to let him go. Jang is left to try and prey on another victim; he is even left with a handful of cash. What is going on? The two are about to play a cat and mouse game with the shadow of vengeance over them…

Korean films have always had a very human theme whenever they go about a premise. “I Saw The Devil” tackles the premise of revenge much like Park Chan Wook did with his “Vengeance Trilogy” but Kim goes for a different approach. He goes straight for the jugular with brutal violence, action, psychological mind games and horror elements. Kim Ji-Woon presents his own study of the concept of revenge. Sure it may arguably not be as thought-provoking or psychologically disturbing as Park’s creation, but I would argue that this film may leave you more breathless and more on the edge of your seat. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but with “I Saw The Devil”, revenge is indeed meaner, nastier and more brutal. Revenge is served bloody and cruel.

Revenge scorches the soul; its roots may be traced to grief, a promise of redemption or atonement and maybe even to lighten a personal burden. Things may seem to get better but it would only get worst. For some reason, Jang and Kim begin to form a strange bond, they seem to see their similarities and yet, they both see how different they are. These are ruthless men, born to do what they think is their destiny and the film brings forth a strong morality theme as in the line between psychosis and grief, in becoming a monster and just what is a monster. One is fueled by pure psychosis and one may be tempered by reason and training; they make use of who or what they are. Jang may even know he is truly a sick human being and during the scene with the cannibal, the viewer would be privy to the fact that he is well-respected among his fellow psychotics (Kim Ji-Woon demonstrates Jang’s killing rampage and depraved nature in a taxi cab). Kim Soo-Hyun is a man trained to hunt, kill and maybe protect. These are two men with a strong resolve to do what they have to or what they want to. It leaves a psychopath’s nihilistic and cruel desires within reach and yet miles away. There is a very dark sense of humor exhibited by Kim Ji-Woon and sometimes, he gives us a few uneasy and uncomfortable giggle. I wanted to laugh as Soo-Hyun appears to be an awesome ass-kicker and a cock-blocker, Lee was like a raging hurricane but in a way I was more disturbed with what I was watching.

The direction keeps the film at a very thrilling and absolutely breathless pace that kept me on the edge of my feet despite its 140+ minute runtime. The director knew how to generate suspense and I was kept breathless as the two play their dark game. Kim also never relents from violent imagery; the film is filled with violence and there is quite a number of gory and bloody scenes. The also has strong depictions of violence against women with several scenes of nudity, although most were controlled and maintained a sense of restraint. The film is filled with graphic imagery, tendons are slashed, mouths torn, throats are slit, genitals are bludgeoned, heads are bashed in and those who have a weak stomach may find them hard to take. The film has its share of great visuals; as Kim and company use old-school prosthetics and blood-splatter effects to express the brutality, and they are done in a manner that only Kim Ji-Woon could. The direction does shoot the scenes with class and taste, as it never seemed to glorify the violence but makes it necessary only to get its points across.

The film also has several twists and surprises as he manages to keep everything coherent and solid. Director Kim Ji-Woon develops the plot and supporting characters through the film’s themes and violent imagery and I cannot discuss this further since it is part of the film's main draw. All I can reveal is that the characters have a purpose and they are in script for a purpose. Kim almost crosses the line of becoming ‘torture porn’ feature but I have to applaud his touch at being more compassionate and less cynical with the delivery of the sadistic scenes. “I Saw The Devil” may have a premise that may seem familiar, but we’ve never seen a revenge premise told like this. Kim does what he does best, and he sticks to it, and what results is an exceptional, well-acted and brilliant action-horror-thriller that has the same fantastic moody cinematography, careful editing and stylish visuals that complement one another.

Dark, cruel, lurid, unrelenting, violent and brutal, “I Saw The Devil” is an excellent film that gets the fact that violence is a product of our actions and is something very nasty. Magnificently expressed by two very alike yet so different characters, it comes forth with the consequences and evils of vengeance; that sometimes it hits you back like a ton of bricks. So who do you think wins in this “Jason Bourne collides with Hannibal Lecter-send a monster to catch a monster” kind of deal? Watch this film and you can decide who loses. Just what is a monster?

After Vengeance, What Do You Have Left?

Highly Recommended! [5- Out of 5 Stars]
This Film is Easily Making My Best of 2011 List!


Set A Monster To Catch A Monster... Set A Monster To Catch A Monster...

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May 22, 2011
Just saw this; great film. Reminded me a great deal of "No Country for Old Men." I'll work on getting a review up this week. I'd like to quote your bit about Hannibal Lecter meets Jason Bourne, if that's okay with you.
May 22, 2011
No problem. I am happy you enjoyed the film! Please let me know when your review is up...
May 18, 2011
This one sounds really bloody and disgusting...I would enjoy it!! Great review as always......
May 18, 2011
I think you will. It has quite a few graphic imagery and the horror was perfectly balanced with the action sequences. The only thing that would've made it better was if Toes got pummelled LOL!
May 18, 2011
Looks like a film I might enjoy. I really appreciated the extensive review and all the details you included. Excellent job, William!
May 18, 2011
Thanks, Adri. This was one of my most anticipated films this year...glad it got an early release in America.
May 18, 2011
Yeah, lucky for us all! You got to view it, and we got to read this amazing review! YAY!
May 18, 2011
I'm glad you reviewed this. I'd been hearing a lot of great things lately and actually bought a copy the other nite when I was out doing a bit of late nite shopping. I loved Tale of Two Sisters and his western film so this was definitely something I knew would be up my alley for sure. I wish one of my local theatres would take more Korean films. Can't wait to see this. ;-) I also have Barking Dogs Never Bite which I might watch soon as well. It's perverse to have so much good stuff to watch and so little time. Great review!
May 18, 2011
I am pretty sure you'll like this one; after all it has two of my favorite film genres: action and horror wrapped around a fast-paced gory, bloody premise. What is there to not to like? Barking Dogs Never Bite?! Ok, now you'll have to review it. I am trying to find the right time to see A SERBIAN FILM....I need to be left alone. LOL!
May 18, 2011
I'm no a big action fan per se with the exception of Rambo or perhaps Conan but this film looks like something I will enjoy. It sounds like a gory, well-paced thriller with a pretty cool title. And you must see A Serbian Film. Knowing your taste in film, I'm shocked you haven't already seen it many times. A Serbian Film is the Salo, Cannibal Holocaust, or Irreversible of 2010. It gets my vote for best film in 2010. I read somewhere in Fangoria that it's getting a limited release now in the states as of 05/13/11 but I seriously doubt my theatres would take that risk. I will buy a legitimate copy whenever the uncut version is released on dvd. In the meanwhile, I am content with my unrated bootleg of a screener. LOL
May 18, 2011
I've had the unrated dvd before the seller went out of business two-three months ago (Iam now without a cult movie source). I saw the beginning, but I need to see that one alone...and lately, well, I am not. Either I am at a relatives house or doing some chore, I am the only one among my friends with a weird taste in films :( I know it is getting a U.S. release, did you see @'s review about it? He didn't like it, but his descriptions made it more intriguing to me...
May 20, 2011
I've heard it's getting a US release yet I've been told this will be R-rated with numerous cuts. What a crock! Dude, just watch the unrated dvd as I hate to fathom how many cuts had to made just to obtain an R. Sorry, but Chris Pandolfi's taste and mine are polar opposites. Although I can respect and appreciate his need to avoid the films he finds sickening, I still have to wonder why he bothered watching it at all??! For example, I am not a Britney Spears fan but I won't be watching her film nor do I feel the need to review it either, people never fail to amaze me. ;-) A Serbian Film was meant to show it's audience how little human life is actually valued in Serbia ratehr than just exploit the horrors. Chris Pandolfi would do better perhaps reviewing Lemony Snicket films or Harry Potter.
May 20, 2011
I tend to look at all reviews as something I can learn from. I like to be prepared for a movie such as A SERBIAN FILM. (your descriptions make it seem similar to Philosophy of a Knife) I find Pandolfi's review good in the sense that I feel it would represent the majority of the reaction to the film, and it intrigued me more. You are a hardcore horror fan and so I know you would know what you are in for. I know to each his own and we all have different tastes; we all have to respect all opinions. Which is why I will see it once I am alone. I know my friends wouldn't watch the film with me, so I will see it because I love cinema, and knowing that a film like that is around is enough for me to sit down and watch it. I am betting I will be impressed with it, it'll probably be one of those things that I know it is a great movie but would only give it a careful recommendation.
May 20, 2011
I used to wonder what was wrong with people who would go see films such as Hostel or anything Tarantino knowing full well how violent it was going to be & then complaining later on that it was "too violent". I have come to the sad conclusion that most people have subscribed to this certain state of shallowness & don't really care to see anything that the vast majority of the movie going public wouldn't find socially acceptable. Or maybe they feel it makes them a better person for not complimenting nor condoning the more extreme films. That's a safe place to be but a rather boring one also. Sure, it's cool to respect those with different opinions and their taste in films. Having said that, I'm not suggesting his review wasn't well written or even truthful. It is & that's his opinion for what's it worth. Indeed, he does lean towards how the vast majority would view the film & that's why I didn't care for it. The viewpoint here is exactly the same as what I've read all over the internet as far how shocking the film is or what atrocities we should hope to avoid by simply not seeing the film. Thus, I could learn no more from his review than the countless reviews scattered all over the web which all say pretty much the same thing. That is, unless his review were the first one I'd encounter online. It's quite common & all too easy to pick apart a film because it's uber violent & sexually graphic. This is a typical reaction to anything in general that takes us out of our comfort zones. Your example of Philosophy of a Knife is a great one. I did manage to get through the grueling 4 hours and some change of it but probably would never watch it again. Mind you, Philosophy is a good film & I do think quite highly of it. However, it would be fruitless for me to write a review for it detailing the countless atrocities that are committed & how difficult a film it is to watch as I know everyone else can do this. What people fail to realize (and Lunchers are notorious for this) is that controversy is not necessarily a bad thing nor are the films that press our buttons. They are, in fact, fictional works & the horrors that take place in the film aren't real. To take it a step further, just because we're curious or open-minded individuals who are willing to take that leap into the realms of hardcore doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with us.
May 20, 2011
Great points, Brian and I agree with you. I once was dumbfounded that someone complained about a zombie movie being too 'gory'. I really am not sure how I felt about that, but hey, it is their taste. There is a huge line between mainstream and real cinema; as well as a thin line with cinema and controversy. I love reading both sides of the equation, it teaches me how to approach a review. I actually think there is no wrong or right opinion, but they are oftentimes birthed of 'not being exposed' to those movies, and I do sometimes feel that there are no wrong opinions but there are indeed (arguably) wrong approaches to a film. I like your review of ASF a lot, and you know nothing ever turns me off. I see movies as an art form, and sometimes, my stance is often seen as my friends as 'twisted' and that I tend to be a little cynical.

I agree with everything you've said, and believe me, I have been accused of liking movies that no one else has. This is why I review, my current company of friends are more mainstream and there's only one who goes with me to see movies by Lars Von Tier and Miike. I like depressing movies and those that push the envelope, but I don't look for those each time I see a movie in the theater. Someone once told me he admits that THE GIRL NEXT DOOR and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST were brilliant and original, but he wasn't entertained since it was hard to watch, and this made him rate those movies a little lower. I rated TGND a 4.5 and CH the same, but we were different in how we took the film. Movies are here so we could get different reactions from people, and I am amazed how writers of these movies can provoke these different emotions. That in itself is an achievement.

I wanted to smile since I got an email to review A SERBIAN FILM, I was surprised (Mack had asked me too), but Dave may not want anything to do with it. So I guess, next weekend would be a great time to see it since I have a 4 day weekend.  I have a feeling that I will like ASF, but it'll probably be one of those feelings I got when I saw SALO.
May 24, 2011
I will say this. It was much easier for me to take A Serbian Film than it was to digest Philosophy of a Knife. I didn't find it nearly as grueling and could probably re-watch this one. Most of my friends on Facebook & HHH speak very highly of it and I tend to believe you will rate this one pretty highly or I can no longer be a cenobite. Or maybe I can still be Ceno without the "bite" if my predictions are wrong. In many ways, ASF is almost like an angry cousin of Oldboy. Perhaps I'm a bit numb or have seen one too many extreme films already but ASF didn't strike me as anymore sickening than Salo, Irreversible, or any of the other classics we love to hate around here. ;-)
May 25, 2011
Philosophy of a Knife was really hard to watch and what makes it more unnerving is the fact that it was based on a true story. I was talking to a friend of mine, and she is willing to sit down and see A SERBIAN FILM with me. I showed her the two reviews here and she is curious. She told me that Europe is just more unrelenting with these themes than America and they do go further than we can ever expect. It seems like Europe needs to be bolder since the measuring stick for boldness there is extremely high.
May 27, 2011
Just finished I saw The Devil the other nite. It was quite good & it may be on the best films I see all year. I'm glad I purchased this one instead of renting it first. I'm also thrilled to hear you found someone to watch A SERBIAN FILM with. It sounds like she already understands what she's in for so things should go well. Knowing your taste in cinema and the films we've both agreed on, I can't say you will love it but I do think you will have a deep respect for it. Cheers!!
September 09, 2011
May 13, 2011
Thanks for the primer on the Korean New Wave - a movement I've been meaning to catch up with. I made a great list of movies I'm excited to see based just on your first paragraph. One question though - I noticed the absence of Joon-Ho Bong. Not a fan of "The Host" and "Mother?" "Mother" in particular was the film, in conjunction with Park Chan Wook's work, that's made me more resolute about checking out the Korean New Wave. Would be interested to hear your opinion of his work.
May 13, 2011
Hey, thanks for the comment. The Korean new wave was indeed the rage, I believe Kim Ki-Duk was the first director I truly started to get into and the rest followed. If you click on the tag "Korean cinema" then you'll see more movies. I like Bong's work, and I do like Bong's "Mother" and "Memories of Murder" a lot (I reviewed them and THE HOST here also). However, I do see his work as more commercial/Westernized and that they don't exactly carry the style of Korean filmmaking. The same can be said for Ryoo Seung-Wan's work, but he acts and directs, while keeping an editing style all his own. Those are the only directors I find mostly intriguing and they make me curious all the time as to what they'll come out with next. They're arguably the best, but they do draw me in, and Bong may make that list one day since I was really impressed with Mother. Thanks for the read and comment!
May 13, 2011
Yes indeed man you know I liked this one as well, had to get it the second it was out. When I first read about this [in Fangoria I believe] I knew I had to get it. EXCELLENT review WP.
May 13, 2011
Thanks, Alex! This may be one of Ji-Woon's best! Which one is your fave?
May 12, 2011
Excellent write up. This one sounds really good and I loved the director's other film A Tale of Two Sisters. That would probably make my top 50! I'll seek this one out for sure.
May 12, 2011
LRR, I do believe you will like this one a lot. The dvd is $ 15.99 in amazon, $ 19.99 for the bluray. Guess what...I have both LOL! BBuy doesn't have them in stores unfortunately and online they want $ 20-30 for it.
May 12, 2011
This just looks awesome. The plot reminds me a bit of "Manhunter" (remade as "Red Dragon"), but also a little bit of the TV show "Dexter". I wish Criterion would release a Park Chan Wook box set. I'll definitely have to check this out. By the way, I was thinking about getting "Old Boy" on DVD, but I wasn't sure what's the best available version (I'd prefer an uncut version, but I know a lot of Asian films are dramatically re-edited for U.S. release). What would you suggest?
May 12, 2011
This was great! I mean I could've paid more to get the original Korean dvd release earlier this year ($34.99) but times are hard and the unrated bluray was a lot cheaper. The Tartan U.S. release of Oldboy is the uncut version. I would really suggest that you get the Vengeance Trilogy since it includes the original Director's cut of Lady Vengeance (with the artistic FADE TO WHITE) If the bluray set gets cheaper, I may send the older dvds to you.
May 12, 2011
Like I said in the message I sent you, I can get "Oldboy" and "Lady Vengeance" for super cheap, so I may beat you to it. : )
May 12, 2011
see that is what I get for not checking messages LOL!
May 12, 2011
Here's a big... DUH!!! for you. ; )
May 13, 2011
Heard from Karen?
May 13, 2011
Nope. I sent her a few messages via Facebook, Lunch, and e-mail, but no response.
May 13, 2011
I am worried. I'll ask Nick...
May 13, 2011
I've been worried about her too. Why would Nick know anything though?
May 13, 2011
IMO, Karen is closer to Nick than anyone else I know online.
May 13, 2011
I wouldn't have guessed that. I thought Karen and I were pretty close, but she sort of just drifted off and stopped responding to messages. I don't hear much from Nick either. I still wish he would post stuff on Blogger or get a Facebook account so it'd be easier to contact him. Playing e-mail tag is possibly the slowest way of communicating outside of snail mail.
May 14, 2011
Well, you are pretty close too. But I dunno that is just my observation since I've seen their exchanges and they do connect even when they argue. Karen is one great lady. I'll see if I can call Nick tomorrow to find out when he last heard from her...
May 15, 2011
hey, I forgot to ask earlier...any comments on the poster at the bottom? eerie isn't it?
May 15, 2011
Which one?
May 15, 2011
the one at the very bottom, atop the trailer....
May 15, 2011
It's okay, why?
May 16, 2011
I was thinking that you may have a comment as to what it may be trying to say...
May 16, 2011
Not sure I follow you.
May 17, 2011
never mind. If you didn't make a comment then you didn't exactly see it...I guess the poster says more after you've seen the movie.
May 27, 2011
Someone mentioned your review for this in theirs. You see it? : )
May 28, 2011
nope where is it?
May 28, 2011
Gonnawatchit reviewed it in Movie Hype.
More I Saw the Devil reviews
review by . May 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Great Entry Point Into Korean New Wave...and just a darn good movie
It can be difficult to find a way in to the cinema of another culture, and, even despite its impressive catalog of really excellent films, the Korean New Wave is no exception.   Park Chan Wook's movies ("Oldboy" and "Thirst", among others) are one way in, but they are often so stylized, and the style so different from what plays at the multiplex, as to be offputting.  The bestselling movie in Korea, Bong Joon-Ho's "The Host," is a monster-comedy; …
review by . May 12, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
18 - 141mins - Crime/Drama/Horror - 29th April 2011   A foreign movie from the country of South Korea, I Saw The Devil keeps in tune with many of the films to successfully make it out of Korea with it's dark and gory plot based around revenge.   It follows Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee) who is a highly trained agent. One night while stranded on the side of the road after her car breaks down, Kim's pregnant fiancée is attacked and brutally murdered by Kyung-chul (Min-sik …
Quick Tip by . May 12, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Kim Ji-Woon does it again! A truly unrelenting violent film that has all the emotional and dramatic impact to portray a very human reaction....the need for vengeance.      Amazingly well-acted and definitely well-executed; Kim is joined by Choi Min-Sik and Lee Byung-Hun to bring forth a dark like coal tale of rage, anger and psychosis wrapped around an action- horror-thriller that may be one of the best Korean films of 2011! See the full review here.      …
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About this movie


A shockingly violent and stunning tale of murder and revenge. The embodiment of pure evil, Kyung-chul is a psychopath who kills for pleasure. His latest victim was not only the daughter of a retired police chief, but also the pregnant fianc?e of elite special agent Soo-hyun. Obsessed with revenge, Soo-hyun is determined to track down the murderer, even if doing so means becoming a monster himself. Turning Kyung-chul in to the authorities is the last thing on Soo-hyun's mind, as the lines between good and evil fall away in this diabolically twisted game of cat and mouse.
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Director: Jee-woon Kim
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller
Release Date: 12 August 2010 (South Korea)
Screen Writer: Hoon-jung Park
Runtime: 141 min
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