I Saw The Devil, by Jee-woon Kim, impressed me greatly. It initially appears to be a fairly straightforward revenge yarn with a high level of brutality and superb production values. By the time it reaches its bloody climax, it has revealed itself to be something much more than that.
The film focuses on the price one pays to exact retribution on another. It's no surprise that the price is high. Byung-hun Lee, who appeared in the director's A Bittersweet Life (2005), plays the film's angry man. Min-sik Choi, who headlined Old Boy, is the villain. Both hold in their own in challenging physical roles and deliver layered emotional performances.
I Saw The Devil is not standard fare by any means, and if you're easily offended by extreme violence and vivid depictions of perversion, try Rango instead (it's also good).
The Korean countryside is a haven for perverts and killers in this grim tale. Although Choi is an unstoppable force, his actions are well matched by a violent cannibal and a traveler who expresses a great deal of rage with a sharp knife.
For some, the film's relentlessness may minimize its virtues. Some reviews have argued that it is too long. For mine, it was just long enough, thanks to the endlessly creative concepts dreamed up by its creator.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird, the director's previous work, did not ring bells for me. It was well made, but it bored me to death. I Saw The Devil, on the other hand, is comparable with A Bittersweet Life in terms of quality, although it is somewhat more beautiful while also being more brutal. Few marriages of disparate elements consummate as successfully as they do here.
The film, seen by me at Landmark's Nuart Theater in Los Angeles, is currently touring the country.
Distributor is Magnet.