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October 2, 2011 | by  | in Arts Film |
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I SAW THE DEVIL

Over the last few years, South Korea has proven itself incredibly adept at producing films of intense, visceral violence. Park Chan-wook, Na Hong-jin, Lee Jeong-beom and Kim Ki-duk have all made their names producing stylish, brutal dramas and thrillers and some of the most successful Korean exports have been unflinching in their presentation of extreme violence. So it’s no mean feat that Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil leaves all of these films in the dust when it comes to how relentlessly graphic it can get. Kim’s latest is a bloody, gripping journey through a hellish landscape where serial killers lurk around every corner and even the most moral man can become a monster. It’s also the best film of the year.

Working with Park Hoon-jung’s relentless, perpetually-escalating script, Kim captures a world that’s more waking nightmare than reality. The Korea in which avenging angel Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) and sadistic murderer Park Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) play their vicious game of cat-and-mouse is claustrophobic and terrifying. Walls are caked with nauseatingly vivid colours and kitchens have more in common with torture chambers; outside, the oppressive darkness looms over those safe in their bubbles of light and snow. The brief third act shift to more naturalistic architecture and design is a masterstroke, carrying all of the violence and horror we’ve experienced for two hours into a world frighteningly close to our own.

I Saw the Devil’s immaculate production design, nerve-testing script and perfect central performances from Lee and Choi (again proving themselves two of the best actors working today) feed into the film’s greatest triumph—the ethical questions it asks of an audience that eagerly partakes in a cultural climate that demonises the other without truly understanding them (see Taken). While Soo-hyeon is initially easy to root for, his Neeson-esque resolve and good looks hide a darkness just as repulsive as the flabby, snarky Kyung-chul’s. The frenzy in Soo-hyeon’s eyes as he pursues and taunts his wife’s harried killer betrays his repeated moral justifications; his violent behaviour, deployed in the name of justice, is just as horrific and hollow as that of his quarry. Other films test your willingness to go along with a protagonist’s course of action, but none as effectively as this—I Saw the Devil is not only an astounding piece of craftsmanship but a truly riveting interrogation of what we consider ‘justice’.

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  1. Daisy says:

    Weeeee, what a quick and easy soluiton.

  2. Davion says:

    I bow down humbly in the pesrence of such greatness.

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