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Teen Review: ‘I Saw the Devil’

Do You Have the Stomach for This Korean Horror?

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.

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

Magnolia Pictures

Above: 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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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 17, 2011 at 11:17 a.m. ― 6 years ago

How do you get into a rated "R" movie without your parents? Anymore, I am disappointed that horror movies have deteriorated in blood and guts. No suspense anymore Just blood and guts and guessing who's the next to get the axe! Thanks a lot Sean Cunningham!

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Avatar for user 'lidiaislaw'

lidiaislaw | March 17, 2011 at 11:48 a.m. ― 6 years ago

1) I don't have parents.
2) Sean Cunningham is American, and he doesn't do violence or sex that is irrelevant or extraneous to his films. Kim Jee- Woon likes going over the top to get the message through. There is plenty of suspense, and it almost feels real. You obviously don't understand the concepts of horror.

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Avatar for user 'jgomez614'

jgomez614 | March 17, 2011 at 11:55 a.m. ― 6 years ago

I understood what you were trying to say and how you felt about the film, but to be honest, I think your review was "all over the place". I don't know, it might just be me, but it seemed like you hopped around with the things you we're saying. That's all i really have to say... other than that you did great.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | March 17, 2011 at 12:03 p.m. ― 6 years ago

To missionaccomplished: don't judge the film before you see it. It's not just blood and guts and it's not about just who's the next victim. This is a true horror film because it looks to the darkness within the human psyche. Give it a try and then let me know what you think.

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Avatar for user 'pepe23'

pepe23 | March 19, 2011 at 10:05 p.m. ― 6 years ago

It's cool you can see new movies and write about it. This movies sounds like something i would watch because I'm into horror movies. I wanna say good job to you Lidia because the way you broke this movie down just make me wanna go see it, that's crazy what that guy does to women I can't imagine that happening to me or to anyone.

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Avatar for user 'VictoriaBueno'

VictoriaBueno | March 20, 2011 at 2:10 p.m. ― 6 years ago

I really enjoyed your review Lidia, it makes me want to watch the movie. Which I think I will. The way you describe the humor totally seems my style, and I have been waiting to see a good horror film. The only thing I would suggest is be a little more clear when you switch over to a new "paragraph", not sure what to call them. But in the 3rd and 4th paragraph i got a bit confused. other than the clarity of that one section, this is written very well. thumbs up.

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Avatar for user 'johanna03'

johanna03 | March 20, 2011 at 4:05 p.m. ― 6 years ago

I liked your review Lidia, you did a great job. Your review made the film appealing to all source of audience. From audiences who like action movies, full of blood and violence to the non violence watchers like myself. I do not really like full pact action movies, but your review made the movie interesting. It touch on how it has some comedy scenes. Which makes it more appealing due to the fact that it was some non violence scenes. I also really like how you mention that "film gives us an idea of what good or evil is". I feel like this movie even if it has action and violence it has a message to give to its audience. This really makes me want to see the film.

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Avatar for user 'franciscolemus93'

franciscolemus93 | March 21, 2011 at 9:26 p.m. ― 6 years ago

Lidia, I really enjoyed your review and it's well decribed. A violent movie, but also a film of revenge, and you give the reader the view of what the film could be about and the vision of what we could expect. I like how you said that you even felt disturbed when the head of the woman rolled. This would be a film that I would love to watch, and cannot wait what to expect when i watch the film.

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