Last week a friend shared an article on Facebook about ten or so Netflix instant films you must watch immediately. The list contained more than a couple of films that I’d pinned for later at some point long ago. With a fresh recommendation to work from I decided it was high time to strike the 2011 South Korean thriller I Saw The Devil from my queue.
Joo-yeon (San-ha Oh) is chatting with her fiance Soo-hyun (Byung-hun Lee) while waiting patiently for a tow truck to fix her flat tire. After declining help from school bus driver, Jang Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi), she is attacked and taken from her car. After she is found dead, Soo-hyun takes a two-week hiatus from the NIS presumably to grieve. Using information gathered by Joo-yeon’s father, Squad Chief Jang (Gook-hwan Jeon), Soo-hyun instead puts his skills as a secret service agent to use by hunting down any man possibly responsible for her murder. When he identifies Jang Kyung-chul as the culprit, Soo-hyun, instead of dispensing justice, sets about exacting revenge for Joo-yeon.
Ang-ma-reul bo-at-da, better known as I Saw the Devil, is a story from the mind of Hoon-jung Park brought to gruesome, vivid reality by director Jee-woon Kim. The story pits Byung-hun Lee better known as Storm Shadow in the G.I. Joe franchise against Min-sik Choi who is best known for his work in Oldboy and most recently Lucy. Placing these two powerhouses onscreen opposite one another results in one-hundred-forty minutes of footage audiences either can’t bear to watch or can’t peel their eyes away from.
That may be confusing, but Jee-woon Kim’s film is brutally violent. The acts committed by Jang Kyung-chul are sadistic. Soo-hyun’s methods are unrelenting and torturous. The tension of the chase and the merciless natures of these two men is no doubt more than some viewers can stomach. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle the imagery, the story is mesmerizing.
It may seem weird to read, but after watching the brutal beating of Joo-yeon, the image of her limp body being dragged as it leaves a trailed of blood-soaked snow in it’s wake is chilling and hypnotic. The imagery, despite its perversity, is shot beautifully.
The extremely talented Min-sik Choi turns in an unnerving performance. The callousness and casual way he goes about his murder and mayhem is unnerving. It is heightened by Jee-woon Kim’s decision to show only snippets of Kyung-chul’s life and methodology. The depths of his depravity is slowly exposed throughout the story, shedding a brighter, more revealing light on how vicious a monster he is.
Byung hun-lee’s Soo-hyun is single-minded in his pursuit and torture of the murder who took his beloved from him. His combat skills are impressive, but it’s his unwavering commitment to the dark punishment he’s laid out for Kyung-chul that makes him nearly as chilling as the man he hunts.
It’s those emotions, raw and bleeding from the horrors that have shredded them, that drive I Saw the Devil. It is a film thoroughly deserving to be on the Best-on-Netflix-Instant list I re-discovered it on. I’m not sure when, but I expect I’ll be queuing up director Jee-woon Kim’s previous endeavor The Good, The Bad, The Weird, which has also been in my queue for a while, very soon. If you can stomach the graphic content of I Saw the Devil, I highly suggest you get settled on your couch for a very unsettling and satisfying experience.