When you find a horror movie that makes you feel a full range of emotions — not just terrified — you hold on to that movie! I Saw the Devil (2010) is that movie, people. It was directed by Jee-Woon Kim, who's also behind A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), another must-see Korean horror film.
What seems like a classic revenge story is actually an incredibly sad story about losing a loved one in a brutal way. In I Saw the Devil, when secret agent Kim Soo-Hyeon’s (Byung-Hun Lee) wife, Joo-Yeon (San-Ha Oh), is brutally murdered, he swears vengeance on her murderer, Kyung-Chul (Min-Sik Choi). Being a man with a “certain set of skills,” Soo-Hyeon doesn’t have too hard of a time tracking and attacking Kyung-Chul. In fact, Soo-Hyeon plays a rather gruesome – or awesome, depending on your perspective – game of cat-and-mouse with the serial killer where Soo-Hyeon finds Kyung-Chul, beats him within an inch of life, then leaves him to lick his wounds, only to attack again later. It’s kind of spectacular.
In other revenge stories I’ve seen, the protagonist spends the entire time tracking the main villain, maybe killing some people along the way, and then there is the big confrontation and fight scene at the end. I Saw the Devil is not like this at all. I was initially surprised at how quickly Soo-Hyeon found Kyung-Chul, and when their first confrontation was finished (with Soo-Hyeon as the victor), I thought there might be more to the plot, since it all seemed to be over so quickly. But no, Soo-Hyeon kept coming back for more in an effort to torture Kyung-Chul and truly make him suffer like Soo-Hyeon himself was suffering.
This is where the sad parts come in. Soo-Hyeon, of course, feels personally guilty for Joo-Yeon’s death because he wasn’t there for his wife when she needed him. Soo-Hyeon’s profession as a secret agent – or, at least, that’s what I assume his job is – kept him from being with his wife when her car broke down and Kyung-Chul found her. Between the very violent and gory fight scenes between Soo-Hyeon and Kyung-Chul, we see how deeply Soo-Hyeon is grieving for his wife. Even though his family and friends are urging him to give up Kyung-Chul to the authorities and stop his revenge schemes, Soo-Hyeon becomes set on giving Kyung-Chul exactly what he deserves.
Oddly enough, however, Soo-Hyeon really doesn’t become the “monster” everyone thinks he’ll become by pursuing revenge. I mean, sure he hurts some of Kyung-Chul’s buddies along the way – to be honest, Soo-Hyeon should’ve killed that cannibal, instead of simply hospitalizing him – but the only person he actually kills in the pursuit of revenge is Kyung-Chul.
The character development is what makes I Saw the Devil a great film. Jee-Woon Kim really makes you feel for Soo-Hyeon, to the point where I didn’t even care if he killed everyone in his path, I still would have felt sorry for him. I also felt intense hatred for Kyung-Chul, to the point that he could have repented profusely and he and Soo-Hyeon could have become besties and I still would hate him. It’s this kind of character develop that keeps audiences tuned into the story; we feel so strongly about the characters, so we actually care about what happens to them. Jee-Woon Kim succeeds in this aspect easily.
I Saw the Devil is also full of very violent scenes of murder and revenge, so those looking for something a little stomach-churning will be satisfied with this film. I was actually surprised by the amount of violence in Jee-Woon Kim’s film. I haven’t done much research on South Korea’s film industry, but I do know that South Korea is quite a conservative country. The amount of violence in I Saw the Devil was a huge step from South Korea’s popular dramas. Being a horror fan, however, I was pleased with the amount of violence and gore.
Overall, I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed I Saw the Devil. It is truly a one-of-a-kind revenge story and horror movie.