Reflections – I Saw the Devil (2010)


Soo-hyun is a happy man.  He has a great job with the National Intelligence Service and a pregnant fiancé.  Later one night, after getting off of the phone with her, he finds out that she has been murdered, her head found in a river and he does not know if he will ever be happy again.  He decides to put his grief aside, to lock it away and seek vengeance against the man that could do such a thing.  With a list of four suspects, Soo-hyun makes his way through them until he comes to Kyung-chul and realises he is the man responsible.  Tracking him down, he nearly kills him as Kyung-chul is about to rape a young girl, but at the last minute, he holds off and decides to let him go after planting a tracker on him.  Killing the man is not enough, Kyung-chul must suffer as much as possible before his life ends and so begins a game of cat and mouse between the two with the line between them as blurred as it can be.

Directed by Kim Ji-woon, he turns Park Hoon-jung’s script into a visual masterpiece.  The drama, the suspense and the tension never let up as it moves between acts.  The film is intense with both Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik putting everything they had on the screen.  It was raw and brutal in every sense of the word from the dingy dungeon where Kyung-chul kills his victims, to the looks upon their faces when squaring off against one another.  The game that is played by the two leads is disturbing, especially as Kyung-chul sees it as a game.  For Soo-hyun, to let Kyung-chul go in the first place, knowing that he is a serial killer and there might be possible casualties along the way, calls into question his character from the very start of the film.  Is he not doing the same thing himself, but letting Kyung-chul go, could not the future victim’s families then come after him?

Kyung-chul was a fascinating character that was actually explored more thoroughly than expected.  He grew up pretty normal with kind parents and even got married himself and had a child.  What it was that made him snap, leave his family and start off raping and killing women was never mentioned, but is a part that is best left out as it lends mystique and credibility to his madness.  It was also interesting that nearer the end of the film as he is fighting to survive, he sounds like a child when he is crying out for his mother and father.  Not exactly the actions of a stone-cold killer, and it does not make us feel pity for the man, but it does let us know that there is still something buried deep of the man he once was.

Soo-hyun is much the same as Kyung-chul in many respects except for the fact that we are shown precisely the moment when he broke.  Lee Byung-hun’s performance is absorbing as the man hunting for his wife’s killer.  You can see it in his eyes that his rage is all-consuming and that he will keep his promise to Kyung-chul about inflicting as much pain as he possibly can before he kills him.  Of note, is just how far from his position as an officer of the law Soo-hyun has gone.  It is no longer merely about justice or vengeance or whatever justification he tells himself he is doing it for.  As the cannibal friend of Kyung-chul in the film said, Soo-hyun enjoys the hunt.  Kyung-chul and Soo-hyun it seems, are more alike than they may wish to be.

While there are many moral issues present within the film, most having to do with Soo-hyun as he is supposed to be the good guy, they actually seem to serve a purpose, letting that grimy feeling of ‘would you or would you not’ crawl across our mind.  And while they are not explored, it really calls into question just who is the devil?  Was it Soo-hyun when he came into contact with Kyung-chul?  Or was it Kyung-chul seeing it within Soo-hyun the first time he was being tortured?  It could be both of those, but the true answer is probably found within the very last minute of the film when director Ji-woon has Soo-hyun walking off down the road, solitary and crying.  The devil, so to speak, was Soo-hyun and he noticed it within himself.

5 out of 5

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