TIFF '10 Review: 'I Saw The Devil'


Here's why it's smart to have a few good friends on the festival circuit: my longtime colleague Drew McWeeny (previously of AICN, presently with turned to me yesterday and said "Oh, you don't want to see {film I'll not mention out of politeness}. You should come with me to see I Saw the Devil. Apparently it's an epic serial killer flick from the director of A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, and The Good The Bad and The Weird. Scott, I think you'll want to see this one." His descriptions sold me, and off we went. 

At this point, I Saw the Devil stands as the best film I've seen at TIFF 2010 so far.

Brutally violent yet beautiful to look at, I Saw the Devil is one of the truest examples of "cat and mouse" storytelling I've ever seen. Most "cat and mouse" movies are actually "lion and gazelle" movies: the hero chases the villain until he's captured or killed, and usually that's the end of the film. I Saw the Devil, however, actually feels like "cat and mouse." The plot revolves around a secret service agent (Byung-Hun Lee) whose beautiful fiancee is savagely murdered by a vicious psychopath (Min-Sik Choy) -- and our "hero" is not content with exacting a simple, gruesome revenge. As a matter of fact, the agent tracks down the psycho with relative quickness, only to torture him a little, implant him with a tracking device, and let him think he's escaped. I know cats -- and that's exactly how cats deal with their prey. (OK, maybe they don't do the tracking device.)

If it sounds like this isn't quite enough plot to fill an entire 144-minute film, let me assure you otherwise. I Saw the Devil is one of the fastest 2+ hour films I've ever enjoyed. As a crafty thriller, as a brutal horror film, as an epic battle between the inexpressibly evil and the tragically dwindling good -- this is one fantastically hypnotic movie. As in most films with this sort of story, our hero becomes instantly infected by the malicious evil he's trying to destroy. The killer actually gets to cause untold damage because the cop wants to string his quarry along. The movie is loaded with dark ambiguity of the sort, and its themes elevate the film well beyond that of a "cop vs. crook" story; things start to feel downright biblical by the time Act III comes barreling at you.

It feels silly to mention how superlative a director Ji-Woon Kim is at this point (his Sisters is one of the finest Asian horror films ever produced, and his GBW is a masterpiece of film affection and kinetic insanity), but I Saw the Devil cements his place among the (young) modern masters. This is a film of gorgeous camera work, endlessly fascinating shadows, and whip-smart editorial control. It's also a dark, disturbing, and exceedingly graphic film, so I'd only recommend it to those with horror-style and hearty constitutions. But recommend it I would, and most enthusiastically indeed. It may be the most hypnotic serial killer story since The Silence of the Lambs, and it's certainly one of the best thrillers I've seen in a few years.

(Thanks, Drew!)