Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I Saw The Devil

In a world where trailers constantly lie to us about the contents of the film they're trailing, I should first point out that of the six exciting things I saw in I Saw The Devil's trailer, three of them (the phone posterisation feature, the excitingly-positioned subtitles and the breaky-uppy jumpy bit) don't feature in the film. It's Predators all over again I tell you.
I suppose I should also point out that I Saw The Devil isn't nearly as good as I'd hoped. As South Korean revenge thrillers go, it's definitely South Korean and it's very revengey, but sadly it's not all that thrilling. In the admittedly lazy but inevitable comparison to Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy, Kim Ji-woon's film comes off worst, substituting sympathetic characters and layered plotting with intense violence and wincingly visceral torture scenes.

The film is constructed around such a latticework of plot holes that it's a wonder it doesn't collapse in on itself. A rogue detective keeps track of a killer thanks to a combined homing device / microphone that the latter has swallowed, which inexplicably allows the detective to hear all the killer's conversations despite the microphone sitting somewhere in the depths of an intestinal tract; the police are staggeringly useless, preferring to stand around in turtle necks and puffa jackets rather than catch a dangerous madman who's astonishingly easy to catch for an off-duty detective; and the repetitive nature of the protagonist's plan soon becomes tiresome.
There's also a controversy-baiting rape scene that's led to I Saw The Devil remaining unrated by the BBFC for theatrical release and thereby receiving extremely limited distribution, meaning almost nobody will get to see the film at the cinema. Whether the film should be exhibited cut, uncut or at all will no doubt be a matter of some debate, but fans of controversy-baiting rape scenes can find out when the uncut, 18-rated DVD is released on May 9th. They should also probably seek some kind of help.

I Saw The Devil does boast some pitch-black LOLs, an impressively horrifying performance from Choi Min-sik and some bravura camerawork, but once you get past that all that's left is literally nerve-shredding body horror, arguable misogyny and graphic beatings, and frankly I'd rather watch a man eating a live octopus.


  1. I am watching this in a quadruple bill in London on Saturday, along with Peter Pan, Battleship Potemkin and Thor. I am beyond help.

  2. Swallowing a microphone is probably a good idea for recording anyone like the late Marlon Brando who sounded like he was talking out of his backside. Sound recordists stick their Sennheiser 416s right up the nearest furry grey ferret bum if it is windy weather.

    I saw 'The Devils' (1971) directed by Ken Russel which may be a better DVD if you can find it. As Baron de Laubardemont said to Grandier (Oliver Reed) 'Hell will hold no surprises for you.'

    A major sequence in which the nuns tear down and ravish a life-sized icon of Christ in an orgiastic frenzy was cut from the film and subsequently vanished. Film critic Mark Kermode discovered the footage many years later. Director Russell was keen to reinstate the scene but found that Warner Brothers were not interested in doing a director's cut. The footage can be seen in a documentary Kermode made about Russell and was subsequently included in an uncut DVD release.

  3. This is the problem with a lot of people who only watch foreign films that are big enough to make it's trip around the world. They compare every foreign film to every other foreign film. South Korean yes. Revenge? Well. True enough. However you can not compare I Saw The Devil with any of Park Chan Wook's revenge trilogy. I Saw The Devil is a superficial flick and it shows. However because it's upfront about it, it benefits. I mean fifteen minutes in if not less, it's already moving and it never stops. So while the writing for the movie is weak, it doesn't really matter as that isn't what it's about. It's a nonstop action thriller. It's eye candy. In short, get your head out of your arse.

  4. Dear buck, you attribute The Incredible Suit with anatomical flexibility that I imagine he would find delightful if true.

    Are you suggesting that he has done the equivalent of reviewing a Tom & Jerry cartoon as if it were a Ingmar Bergman drama?

    Watson: Holmes, how do you know what I can see looking up my arse?

    Holmes: Alimentary my dear Watson.

  5. But Tony, Tom & Jerry weren't Swedish.

    Or were they? (I'm beginning to doubt myself now)

    Buck's point still seems a strange one - it's like saying you can't compare steak tartare to a Big Mac. I'm not sure how a rape scene ends up being eye candy; I mean, I like Monica Belluci, but I wasn't sitting through Irreversible going "cor, she looks right pretty now she's on the floor of a subway being brutalised"

  6. googergieger(Buck)28 April 2011 at 11:01

    Effin a.

    It is more comparing the Burton Batman to the Nolan Batman and giving one a negative for not being exactly like the other. As if to say clearly both were done in the same tone and meant to accomplish the same goal. I can actually add to this and say, every reviewer seems to love to compare Korean thrillers to Oldboy in the same way every reviewer loves to compare comic book movies to Dark Knight.

    Moving on. No rape isn't a nice tasty treat. Though outside of an attempted rape scene I don't recall the movie showing anything in graphic detail(as far as rape goes). The movie itself is extreme eye candy. Better? No. Alright. It's a technical marvel. It's beautiful to look at from a technical level. The fact that the writing/characters/whatever you want to call them are pretty one dimensional and exist to move the movie along works. If the movie was something like Revenge a love story where clearly there is a message/story/lesson/whatever trying to be made...then I could see you going on your rant on why this movie wasn't Oldboy number two:electric boogaloo.

    Also guy isn't a detective. Secret agent type dude. Which should have been one of the many hints in the movie that should have told you, "ignore the incredibly easy to follow story, just focus on the nonstop action."

    Actually on rereading your "review", I am beginning to wonder if you actually saw the movie...

    Then again you like Paul so maybe we should just leave it at that...

  7. I never said that I Saw The Devil is a bad film because it's not as good as Old Boy. Lots of films aren't as good as Old Boy but are still good films. I Saw The Devil, in my opinion, isn't. And like it or not, both films are high-profile entries in a small subgenre, so it makes sense to talk about ISTD in that context.

    I didn't find the rape scene questionable because of any graphic detail, but because of what happens during the rape. If you've seen it and you don't know what I mean then that's worrying.

    Yes, ISTD is technically stunning. I said that. But I'd expect a film like this to have more complex writing and characters as well. Some films don't need that, but a 141 minute drama can't get by on looks alone.

    And uh-oh, you've rumbled me. I wrote 400 words about a film I haven't seen. I also wrote 400 words about it for Film4.com without seeing it, please don't tell them.

  8. But it isn't a drama. What part of the movie stops long enough to say clearly they are trying to say something meaningful here?

    Again about ten to fifteen minutes into it the film starts running and never stops. The pace of the film benefits from having no "substance".

    As far as the rape scene goes are you talking about the scene where he goes to visit his "friend"? Cause I wouldn't call that a rape scene...

    I don't know, Revenge: A love story. That rape scene was beyond uncomfortable(and the movie itself was a bit up it's own arse). I Saw The Devil, the movie moves so fast and doesn't bother with substance that you can just enjoy the ride. It's a nonstop action flick in thriller form. Which is a bit of an accomplishment in it's own right.

  9. Min-sik Choi is my new hero. God help me.