Saturday, April 23, 2011

Akmareul Boatda (I Saw the Devil) (2010, Jee-woon Kim)

"Abandon All Compassion"

That is the tagline of Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim's newest revenge thriller I Saw the Devil, and it couldn't be more appropriate. While it certainly applies to the film itself, I think it's more of a caveat to those about to watch. There are no redeeming people in this film, nobody you feel sorry for, only monsters and their victims. That's not to say it isn't worth watching. On the contrary, the film is a wonderfully weird, psychopathic discussion on the decline of the human mind.

The film starts out much like any of your run of the mill revenge films; a serial killer murders the pregnant wife of a young detective in the Korean police force. He vows at his slain wife's funeral to make the killer suffer as much as she did. From that point on, for better or worse, the film deviates from the norm entirely.

Our detective "protagonist" goes on a wild spree of unmitigated, merciless bloodbaths, smashing the penis of one man with a wrench, beating a woman to death with a club, hitting a man with his car and then beating him senselessly. He is in search of the man who killed his wife and he succeeds, finding him about forty-five minutes into the two and a half hour movie. He slashes, punches, kicks, stabs, and bludgeons the killer until he is on death's doorstep, where he leaves him with an envelope full of money. The killer, while confused, counts his "blessings" and moves on with his life-- unaware that a tracking device had been put into his mouth while unconscious.

What unravels for the next hour and forty-five minutes is a grotesque display of grisly murders, senseless killings, and even a bout with a cannibalistic psychopath. All oddities aside, the story flows very well, balancing each explosion of violence with scenes that build tension and explore the twisted mind of both the killer and the detective. The film brilliantly guides its audience through-- not with words so much as actions-- the deterioration of an otherwise noble man into what I believe to be the titular "Devil." The killer is violent and twisted, but that is to be expected-- there isn't a plethora of new ground to be found there (the character reads much like Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men). What really makes the film stand out is the "good guy." He goes from zero to one-hundred in a matter of minutes, discovering very quickly that, as the other tagline reads, "evil lives inside." He repeatedly hunts down his prey and beats him within inches of his life, only to leave him alive. As the audience, we are meant to relate to him, making the film that much more disturbing to watch.

The last third of the film is where the plot goes from downright intense to utter maniacal chaos. The killer is finally aware of his tracker, and he begins murdering those close to the detective. The detective in turn, murders those close to the killer in order to find him. That's what makes the film so hard to stomach; not the actual gore or the intensity of the violence, (be forewarned though, the film is brutal) but rather who the victims are. Everybody who dies in the film, with one notable exception are innocent victims. It is a sadistic tale, not for the weak of heart, mind or stomach. The film leads its audience into the filth of the underworld, into the mind of a serial killer, and into the heart of the devil. Without getting too involved in the technical jargon, I will say that it is a fantastically shot, edited, scripted, acted and choreographed piece of work, but the tale it tells will leave you feeling as though you've been punched in the stomach. The story and the realizations one comes to at the end entirely overshadow any minor technical flaws that might exist. To quote one of the climactic sequences of the film, "Your nightmare is only getting worse."

And what a glorious nightmare it is.


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