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Teen Review: ‘I Saw the Devil’

Do You Have the Stomach for This Korean Horror?

Min-Sik Choi stars in

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Above: Min-Sik Choi stars in "I Saw the Devil."

Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon follows his goofy western homage "The Good, the Bad, and the Weird" with the extreme horror film "I Saw the Devil" (opening March 18 at Landmark's Ken Cinema).

In this gory Korean murder-vengeance tale, secret agent Kim Soo-hyeon loses his fiancé, Ju-yeon, to a woman-hating serial killer. Instead of mourning, he’s determined to avenge her death. He begins to stalk and torture Kyung-chul, the man who murdered his wife-to-be. The film soon becomes a wickedly intense and even comical confrontation of hunter versus hunter.

“I don’t know what pain is. Fear? Don’t know that either," so says Kyung-chul. Min-Sik Choi brings the same insanity and determination to this character as he did in "Oldboy." Kyung-chul targets young women, but he doesn’t just kill them. He tortures them, and if he can, rapes them. This film is not for the weak or the squeamish. Kim Jee- Woon masterfully exhibits both sex and violence (and even cannibalism) with the persistent theme of good battling against evil, and the occasional sigh of comic relief.

There was a David Lynch feel to the scene where only the ear of Ju-yeon is first discovered, but when the rest of her body is found, there is a media frenzy. This scene in particular almost bothered me. But its symbolism and intentions remain true to Jee-Woon’s stylistic black humor. When his fiancé’s head rolls out in front of him, and only her head, I’m sure that would be enough to make anyone go crazy and start hunting down her killer.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Lee Byung-Hun is out for revenge in "I Saw the Devil."

The audience was definitely enthused about the film, and especially the gore. Sometimes the laughs were ill-timed, mistaking real dramatic violence for comedic dialogue or irony. That kind of creeped me out. But amidst the macabre images and minimal dialogue, this film intentionally challenges one's sense of good and evil. At what point to we stop rooting for the good guy? The third time he lets Kyun-chul go? When another person has to die? Or when he fulfils the promise to his fiancé, who begged for her life and the life of her unborn child, and kills the crazy bastard who dismembered her?

Sometimes even the cinematography of the film gives us an idea of what good or evil is. The symbolism, however, is a bit warped. Snow can be considered to be pure, clean, even angelic, and yet it seems to isolate and trap Kyun-chul’s initial victim as he drags her blood-drenched and unconscious body across the snow, and back to his murder-cave. His murder-vehicle happens to be a school bus. The rearview mirror even has angel wings lit up on the sides. When he is asked about the person who is stalking him, Kyung-chul describes him as “a complete psycho,” yet another great example of dark humor.

“Revenge is for movies," says one of the characters. The film in its entirety can be interpreted in various ways, but the title is very basic. We can clearly see the devil in Kyung-chul and certainly in Soo-hyeon, but we ignore the devil in ourselves. The squirms of mental anguish from onscreen mutilation are still there, but so is the desire to see this execution carried out. We want to exact revenge for this horrific crime as much as Soo-hyeon, but we don’t. When it’s over we go home to our safe, calm lives, where there are no cannibals, murderers, or rapists. This film’s intention is not to scare you, gross you out, or make you puke. It still could, but this film is not meant to torture you. The violence is creative, but very real, and very applicable. It’s a butt-numbing 141 minutes, and you can be sure you’ll be squirming around during a few of the scenes.

My final say: go see "I Saw the Devil" (in Korean with English subtitles) but only if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Lidia Marin is a senior at Mount Miguel High School.

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