Sunday, 15 May 2011

I SAW THE DEVIL... and all I got was this bloody terrific revenge thriller

Any Korean revenge movie released these days will have the spectre of Cannes Jury Prize winner Oldboy hanging over it, and this one more than most due to the fact that it also stars Min-sik Choi who famously played Oh Dae-Su on his quest to discover why he had been imprisoned for 15 years.
A pictoral representation of the spectre of Oldboy leaning over the film
Devil goes toe to toe with Oldboy for acts of twisted, insane retribution. Not for the faint hearted, the extreme level of violence that is perpetrated by both men makes The Bride’s quest for revenge in Kill Bill look like a playground scrap.
In this film however Min-sik knows exactly what he is being punished for – the rape and brutal murder of a former police chief’s daughter and fiancée of a Korean special agent.
What follows is a dangerous and sadistic game of cat and mouse as Kyung-hul is hunted by the Terminator-like Kim Soo-hyeun, who will not stop until he has his vicious revenge.
It is a fascinating study of evil with large helpings of gore and violence (sliced tendons, broken fingers, cracked skulls, etc) delivered with skill, style and a dash of humour as black as the hearts of the protagonists. Yet it is not just violence for violence sake.
Who is the proverbial devil of the title? Who is the real monster? The sadistic serial killer or a man driven to violence by the pain of loss? These questions will stay with you long after the end credits role.
The two lead actors are excellent and deliver performances that lift it out of what could have been a mere exploitation movie. Min-sik switches between goofy and sadistic at the flip of a switch, creating a truly malevolent screen villain whose cool exterior slowly crumbles under the pressure of the hunt, banishing any thoughts of the sympathetic Oh Dae Su from the mind. Byung-hun plays it more internally, keeping everything bottled up inside. His vengeful lover has a face of stone but his eyes reveal a window to his soul, telling the true story, which makes his emotional catharsis towards the end of the film all the more powerful.
Byung-hun didn't agree with Min-sik's choice for the Palme D'Or
Some might find the running time of 141 minutes rather slow, painful and due to the extreme nature of the content (including a controversial rape scene) difficult to watch. However that is exactly what torture is, and as Kim Soo-hyeun says “If it was that easy, I’d have killed you already”. Kim Soo-hyeun, like the director Jee-Woon Kim, takes his time in executing his revenge before ramping up the pace in a thrilling final act that is reminiscent of Se7en and Saw.
Denied a proper cinematic release due to its extreme content (it was only on at the ICA in London) but is really worth checking out on DVD available in most good DVD stores or probably much cheaper online!

4 stars

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