I Saw The Devil (Akmareul Boattda) (R18)

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Review byMatthew Turner29/04/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 138 mins

Stylishly directed and extremely violent, this is a gripping and disturbing cat-and-mouse thriller with a strong script and terrific performances from its two leads.

What's it all about?
Directed by Kim Jee-woon, I Saw The Devil stars Lee Byung-hun as secret service agent Soo-hyun, whose pregnant fiancee (Oh San-ha) is brutally murdered by serial killer Kyung-chul (Old Boy's Choi Min-sik) in the opening scene. Swearing revenge (and violently beating up a couple of potential suspects along the way), Soo-hyun quickly finds Kyung-chul, but instead of killing him or turning him in, he tortures him and lets him go (planting a tracking device on him first), beginning a deadly cat-and-mouse game of brutal catch and release vengeance.

The Good
The acting is excellent, with Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik both delivering powerfully intense performances that grab hold of you right from the start; Choi Min-sik's Kyung-chul is particularly compelling, because he seems to be raping, killing and dismembering out of sheer boredom - he actually enjoys the challenge when he realises what Soo-hyun is up to. Meanwhile, we strongly feel Soo-hyun's devastating loss and initially root for him to catch up with Kyung-chul, but his retribution takes a deeply shocking form and it soon becomes clear that director Kim Jee-woon is just as interested in toying with the audience and their own taste for revenge as he is in delivering vengeance-based thrills.

The cleverly written script takes several intriguing twists and turns (at one point Kyung-chul hides out with an equally psychotic couple) and there are several notes of jet-black humour, which won't be to everyone's taste. Most impressively, the film functions as a challenging and disturbing meditation on the nature and consequences of revenge and the script takes this to an almost meta-textual level, with Kyung-chul taunting Soo-hyun by asking him who's really winning.

The Great
Kim Jee-woon's direction is slick and stylish throughout, aided by Lee Mogae's deceptively gorgeous cinematography and impressive editing from Nam Na-young, as well as a great score from Mowg. The gore scenes are extremely well handled too, though it's worth noting that the violence is extremely strong, particularly in the scenes with the female victims.

Worth seeing?
Impressively directed and brilliantly acted, I Saw the Devil is an extremely dark revenge thriller that's by turns gripping, disturbing, thought-provoking and ultimately moving. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 19/10/2019 21:40

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