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Movie Blog: ‘I Saw The Devil’

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Byung-hun Lee stars in "I Saw the Devil." (credit: Magnolia Pictures)

Byung-hun Lee stars in “I Saw the Devil.” (credit: Magnolia Pictures)

By Jonathon Sharp, WCCO

If you like horror movies, listen up. There is a movie at the Lagoon this week (and this week only) that you should see. It’s called I Saw the Devil and it’s the supreme revenge movie.

I Saw the Devil blends the gore and atmosphere of Asian horror (think Takashi Miike) with over-the-top, stylized action and the I-can’t-believe-I’m-laughing-at-that humor of dark comedy. It will have you hopping in your seat, rooting, cringing and laughing. It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope of awesome.

I Saw the Devil comes from the Korean director Jee-Woon Kim, responsible for the great A Tale of Two Sisters. Kim’s masterful mashing of genre makes I Saw the Devil something unique – something that stands out in the mind’s eye like an impossible to place puzzle piece.

The plot, which I will only get into briefly, for it holds the key to why the film works so well, is about a serial killer who kills the pregnant wife of the wrong person – an uber-tough secret agent who is willing to lose everything to get even.

Through the help of his secret service friends and his murdered wife’s father, who happens to be the chief of police, the agent finds the serial killer and makes his life hell – a merry-go-round of suffering and novel punishments. The agent stalks the killer, so every time he thinks he’s gotten away, the agent shows up and mops the floor with his face. And it’s great.

Why? You ask.

Because the agent robs the killer of his onscreen power. I should add that the serial killer, played excellently by Min-Sik Choi, is brutally sinister; he’s liable to kill anyone whom he comes across in a fashion as relentless and harsh as the workings of a train engine. He is nearly impossible to feel sorry for and that’s why it’s pretty fun to watch him suffer the agent’s rage.

Through Kim’s cinematic witchcraft, the terror traditionally reserved for the villain in horror movies is transferred onto the hero (the agent), making him terrifyingly awesome – although he does become a morally questionable character himself. Nevertheless, what I’m trying to say is this: the switch in power – that reversal of roles – makes I Saw the Devil delicious in its devilry. You don’t know when you will be cringing, laughing or suffering the ticklish fright of a peek-a-boo heart attack. The movie has a lot of fun with itself and you should have fun watching it.

However, this movie is not for everyone. If you are unfamiliar with Asian horror and you know yourself to be rather queasy, I Saw the Devil may not be for you. It’s also not for those you can’t bear to watch torture or things of a sexually abusive nature. And in case haven’t gotten the idea already, I Saw the Devil is not for children.

Not to give the impression that the movie is perfect, I’ll touch on a few issues. One is that it stalls in a few places. There are times when the tension doesn’t quite build nicely into an action sequence. Another is that some of damage people take – for instance, the severing of one’s Achilles’ Tendon with a surgical knife – is outrageously unrealistic and turns this strange horror film into a mutated Looney Tunes episode. However, the ridiculous violence does add a weird charm.

Aside from the gore and the goofiness, the film has a great architecture. It reaches a satisfying apex, leaving you to wonder who, in the end, is the victor.

I should also mention the film’s style. I Saw the Devil contains a haunting persistence of religious imagery – especially crucifixes. These crucifixes add a strange depth to still shots, lend a touch of humor to some scenes and the spice of sacrilege to others. Also, the soundtrack’s guitars hint at something desperado-ish, peppering the audio with the dustiness of a western showdown.

Anyway, if you want to see something crazy in the next seven days, see I Saw the Devil. Once you see it, you won’t forget it.

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