I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee-Woon, 2010)

Kim Jee-Woon’s latest film can essentially be bookended by the same general procedure – the decapitation of someone’s head. The first such example is particularly gruesome, as it’s a young, pregnant woman who faces the guillotine. The second example is an act of vengeance, and one that the audience should embrace as an inevitability of fate. I say “should embrace” because the journey from point A to point B is one that defies logical reasoning. Furthermore, the two events differ in stylistic presentation; one has to wonder how appropriate such differences are when placed contextually within the narrative web.

Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) was the fiancé to the beheaded woman at the film’s beginning, and as a government agent, has the resources to enact vengeance. The hilarity of the situation involves the inane particulars before the chaotic storm – Soo-hyun goes out of his way to request vacation days before he goes on his two-week vengeance tour. He has narrowed down the potential murderers, and one by one, reaches the man who will eventually be the film’s central antagonist. That man is a school-bus driver named Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik). His method is simple – he picks up women wherever there isn’t anyone watching, beats them, decapitates them, and eats them.

The two collide in spectacular fashion, as they combat within close quarters and with particular stiffness. Soo-hyun has grandiose plans for retribution though – he’ll beat Kyung-chul within an inch of his life, only to revive him for his next beat-down. Kyung-chul becomes aware of Soo-hyun’s plans though, and begins to plan ahead. This bump in the road fulfills the notion that man is the most dangerous game.

While in some cases, lapses in logic can be forgivable, here they serve to problematize narrative development. The rinse and repeat nature of the story-structure dulls actions sequences to the point that their meaning is lost. Jee-Woon is particularly stylish about how these action sequences are conducted, but there’s no grand meaning behind any of it – they all simply weave together as one continuous battle with little subtext to support my interest. Perhaps even more perplexing is the prolonged final act – a series of twists are layered one upon another that it’s a surprise the narrative even ends on a sensible note. Kim Jee-Woon is an interesting director with an eclectic filmography, but his sensibilities are misplaced and misguided when attempting to follow in the footsteps of a director like Park Chan-wook – I Saw the Devil comes across as a Vengeance Trilogy knock-off.

Rating : 5/10