abdulrahman.’s review published on Letterboxd:
This marks my second, fully aware viewing of Kim Jee-woon's revenge masterpiece, which has now confirmed my once unsure of notion that this movie is like none other, which will now accordingly place it permanently into my top favorite movies, along with Oldboy of course. I also now have a type in movies, Korean revenge thrillers.
The first time I saw this movie was about two years ago, I was 14, looking for the most explicit display of violence in film, and with the help of the Internet, I found this movie, I saw it, it was not as traumatizing as I thought it would be, but it left me with an array of contradicting complex emotions that I did not fully comprehend back then, I don't recall how accommodated I was with cinema back then, but I reckon I only saw as much as 20 to 30 movies maximum, none as extreme as this of course, so to me this was an experience.
Thanks to Oldboy fueling my craving for revenge thrillers, I went back to I Saw The Devil, this viewing, not only provided me with a much deeper scope into the world of revenge, it also gave me much clearer answers to the questions I had, and thankfully I can now delve into the emotions it caused me the first time, this time understanding them fully.
The movie opened up with a two minute musical piece that honestly, sent chills down my spine, it's so beautiful and alluring, though realizing I should not have, I did immediately look it up and download it to all my devices, I just couldn't get over how great it is, paired with a delicate snowy car drive scene, you have about two minutes of relative calmness before witnessing the most intense revenge rampage you will ever see in your life.
The killer, played by the one and only, the undefeated legend, Min-sik Choi, who happens to be the same man who not only brought the main character of Oldboy to life, but also is an amazing character actor who brings so much depth and humanity to each character he plays, in this movie he portrays a man with no remorse, nor empathy, a character stripped of its humanity, a sadist who feeds off of pain, a reflection of all that's evil in this world.
This killer is being hunted down by the boyfriend of a woman he killed, a man who we know nothing about due to this movies lack of lengthy preliminary introductions to the character, compromising these by showing you the development of the characters on screen, which is albeit being short, suffices fully to establish not only this character, but every other character in this movie. This certain character shows a type of development that is truly terrifying, it shows you the extremes of what a person is capable of doing to seek closure.
As the movie proceeds, taking a much darker, extremely violent turn, the lines between simply good and evil are not only blurred, they no longer exist, there is no good, nor evil, using such terms to describe the characters would be nothing but a blatant oblivious attempt to force this movie to adhere to the regular guidelines of character building, thus denying this movie of its most prominent features.
The major theme being discussed here is revenge, something that is very apparent from minute one, usually revenge is a tool, being utilized by a character to further provide closure and provide an end to the story, but in this movie, it is not a tool anymore. It's the pinnacle of the movie, it seeped through its core so much, that it's not only the main character's revenge against the killer, their existence has been diminished into this much sought after revenge, the tables have turned, the characters are the tools now, they serve no purpose other than revenge, their existence by itself has turned into their revenge.
The use of violence in this movie has for sure provided it with an edge other movies may not have had, it's how I found out about this movie in the first place, and what really makes its utilization in this movie stand out, is that its in direct proportion to the profoundity of the subject matter here, the intensity of the movie is a direct reflection of the brutal, flinch-inducing imagery being used here, it serves its purpose perfectly, it shows you something that just cannot be shown by normal storytelling means and tools, and not to say that this means that the use of violence here implicates any kind of incompetence by this movie, no no no, this only means that only I Saw The Devil could boast this amount of violent imagery in it, without being overt at all. The violence here is not a cost, it's a need, a much needed necessity to complement a movie of this proportion.
A frequently discussed point of comparison that I have tried to refrain from using is Oldboy, besides the two films having similarities in that they both revolve around revenge and the same actor playing both main characters in both movies, I will admit they are very very different, I went back to watch this movie because Oldboy left me with an emotional void, and though I admit, I was looking for more of the same thing, they did not provide me with the same experience at all.. each one provides a very different world and a very different driving tool to the story, Oldboy is a tale of redemption and revenge, utilizing revenge, while I Saw The Devil is a case study, an up close examination of the nature of revenge. Sure, they're always going to be spoken of in a similar vein, but comparing them to each other is inane.
In conclusion, this movie provided me an experience that is intense and memorable, before it, I was someone who always stuck to western cinema and thought it was the greatest, but this movie proves that pigeonholing yourself is not at all a good move, if you have that kind of ideology (I did), you will only deprave yourself from a great amount of very rewarding experiences, that only international cinema will provide you, so always look for other countries when you're browsing for movies, something I will make sure to do, each goddamn time.
And thus my love for Korean cinema ensues.