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'I Saw The Devil' - An Underrated Gem

I remember seeing this movie for the first time during a field trip with my class, and we decided to watch a horror movie that night - which is typical but still very entertaining. We scrolled through the free section of a movie streaming service and stumbled upon I Saw the Devil. I think it was the title that drew us in, or maybe because it looked the best compared to the other choices. Little did we know, we’d watch the goriest, most brutal thriller/horror we’ve ever seen.

The story revolves around a cop, Kim Soo-hyeon, and his plan to get revenge on the killer behind his pregnant soon-to-be wife’s death - Kyung Chul. The synopsis sounds simple enough: a cop chasing a killer, we’ve seen this concept before. But the characters written for this film are what make it stand out completely from its counterparts. Soo-hyeon is a loving husband and a renowned policeman, living a peaceful life with his sweet fiance. Until one day, his fiance's car broke down in the middle of nowhere on the way home after a trip. Kyung Chul offered her help, not knowing that it would lead to her demise. It was a brutal scene, even more so when the audience was shown the aftermath of her death. Kyung Chul cut up her body into pieces and then threw her remains down a drain. To make it even worse, Soo-hyeon was at the crime scene, devastated as he realized it was his fiance, and that she was pregnant at the time. Anyone who witnesses such a gory scene of their loved ones would be traumatized for life, even if you’re a hardened cop who’s seen death many times. After having some time to grieve, Soo-hyeon immediately went to work to get revenge for his fiance. Using his skills as a policeman, our protagonist easily finds Kyung Chul, beats him nearly to death, and just… leaves him there? It’s one of those moments in film that you just have to question the character’s actions. I recall being confused about how he would let this serial killer live, not knowing it’d lead to one of the most exciting and thrilling cat-and-mouse chases. It turns out that Soo-hyeon has other plans for the notorious killer - every time Kyung Chul is caught, he is beaten near death and is left with a stack of money to fix himself up, basically a repeated cycle of hell for the antagonist.

The plot is unique itself, as I haven’t found any similar revenge storyline that involves torturing the antagonist by brutally attacking him and then giving him money to heal just so he can be beaten up again. It’s a very sadistic concept, though it’s difficult to feel any empathy for Kyung Chul - as he didn’t have any empathy for his victims either. Soo-hyeon's plan is very creative, he wants his enemy to suffer instead of granting him the quickest route (death) - making him feel hopeless just like his past victims. Our protagonist thinks that death is too simple for Kyung Chul and that such a villain as him has to experience life as a living hell. This is an interesting mindset for a character, as in almost every revenge movie, you’d see the protagonist eventually forgiving their arch-enemies and learning that retribution is pointless (Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, any film from Fast & Furious saga, etc). Along with I Saw the Devil, there are only a few with a satisfying vengeance plot like Django Unchained or Carrie. We can slowly see Soo-hyeon turning more cold-blooded and ruthless, his cycle of tormenting Kyung Chul has dulled him away - evident in the ending of the movie. After finally killing the serial killer in what seems like the most memorable kill, Kyung Chul walks away and starts to cry. I wasn’t sure if it was guilt for going against his morals as a policeman, mourning for finally avenging his deceased fiance, or realizing that all his time spent hunting down the killer, torment, and finally putting an end to his crime - nothing changed. His fiance along with his unborn baby is no longer here, and all these acts of revenge ‘in the name of love’ lead to nowhere. Perhaps it was all of those reasons. It doesn’t bring his loved ones back, but he escapes the haunting pressure of avenging them. Soo-hyeon is an incredibly well-written character - as the audience gets to see his personality change from this determined police officer wanting to find justice to this sadistic and merciless shell of a human.

Like the title suggests, this film falls into the thriller genre, but with the amount of blood and gore, this can also considered as horror. One of the main reasons why I Saw the Devil was so haunting to me is the amount of body horror shown. South Korea is known to be quite a conservative country, however, the horror movies this nation produces seem to be the furthest thing from it. All of the torture and killing scenes are scarily well done, the producers went all out to make sure viewers feel uncomfortable and unsettling throughout the film.

I Saw the Devil includes two of the most reprised actors for the main protagonist and antagonist. Soo-hyeon is played by the brilliant Lee Byung-hun, who is most known for his works on K-drama and various apocalyptic films. Many would probably recognize him as the Leader of the organization in Squid Game. Choi Min-sik played the role of Kyung Chul, an amazing actor best known for Oldboy - another South Korean classic thriller. With two incredible actors on screen, there’s never a dull scene and certainly never a bad performance. They both understood their characters well, embodying the slowly corrupted police officer and pure evil serial killer respectively. It was definitely an experience to see two legends within the South Korean cinema industry.

I Saw the Devil is truly an underrated film that more people should watch and know about, as it has one of the best concepts as well as amazing gore and delectable acting.


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