June 13, 2011

I Saw the Devil (2010)



"When his pregnant fiancee becomes the latest victim of a serial killer, a secret agent blurs the line between good and evil in his pursuit of revenge."

The most obvious thing about "I Saw the Devil" is that it's a very long film. I paused it for a toilet break at the 45 minute mark and the Netflix information screen told me that I still had 1 hour and 35 minutes left! A quick look at the IMDb confirms that it is a 141 minute film or, in real money, that's 2 hours and 21 minutes of this utter drivel.

I like very few Korean films and I really didn't like this one. As usual I couldn't tell who was doing what to who or why and, since there wasn't even any sign of anything with horns, cloven hooves or a pointy tail, I was ready to switch it off in disgust after the first 20 minutes.

Only because I was working on something more important on my laptop in front of the TV, I left "I Saw the Devil" on for company which was a bit useless too as I couldn't understand anything they said without looking at the TV screen to read the subtitles every so often. On a few rare occasions, some young Korean guy was hitting people or a dirty older guy was attempting to rape and murder a few others. Basically, it was mostly all talk with a few moments of really gory action and lots of smacking people round the head with various tools until they were unconscious.

It's not that I don't have the ability to follow a film this long but simply that I don't care. I find films about serial killers completely boring and once you've seen one revenge thriller, especially if it's "The Horseman" (2008), you've seen them all.

Just like "The Horseman", the protagonists of "I Saw the Devil" suffered ludicrously debilitating injuries and still carried on as if nothing had happened. The old guy (or rather "Old Boy" since he's the star of that film) got beaten into unconsciousness, had his arm broken and his Achilles tendon sliced and yet still attempted to get some more serial killing jollies. It was all just stupid.

Since "I Saw the Devil" is Korean, and allegedly cut down from something even more brutal, yes, it's full of nicely done moments of blood and gore. Waiting for these moments to happen, however, is more torture than anything the serial killer or the vengeful secret agent on his trail can put each other through. None of the waiting created any tension, realistic character development, or even made me feel anything for the characters. It's just padding for the sake of padding and the characters remained as two-dimensional at the end as they were at the beginning.

I can guess that the arguments in praise of "I Saw the Devil" might begin with, "Well, if you'd paid attention to it then you would have enjoyed it more!" I disagree. Even if I'd been forced to watch it while wearing one of those eye-contraptions that Alex has to in "A Clockwork Orange", I've seen so many films like this already that I would still hate it. I've seen martial arts and torture in every shape and form, sometimes better but usually a lot worse, but never since "Kill Bill" have I been forced to endure something of this epic length for so little pay-off at the end.

If you were in the same position as the secret agent or cop (or whatever the hell he was) and you went through all that trouble to catch the serial killer who raped and murdered your pregnant wife, wouldn't at least a bit of genital torture or flaying alive be on the agenda? Really, for me, it's got to that stage now where all I want to see in one of these films is someone stripped of every bit of their humanity while still remaining alive and not all this pussyfooting around with baiting and childish mind games. Cat and mouse escapades like this belong to "Tom and Jerry" cartoons not adult revenge dramas.

Obviously there will be some people who will think that "I Saw the Devil" is one of the best films that they've ever seen and I don't doubt for a moment that it is the best that they've ever seen either. It's beautifully filmed for one thing and oddly reminiscent of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" while being completely different to it entirely. I can't explain that at all so you just have to trust me about the camerawork and pace for that to make any sense. I felt that "The Host" was very similar in style to the Russian "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" movies but, again, was completely unlike them in subject matter. Sometimes movies just have a "feel" to them which you can't ever explain and it's not even to do with some elusive or magical conjuring up of atmosphere by the director.

I suppose that even though, personally, I didn't get anything good out of "I Saw the Devil", I can still recommend it as something that you ought to see eventually. It doesn't go as far as "The Horseman" for sheer brutality and it has nowhere near the entertainment value of any of Michael Winner's "Death Wish" movies but, if you are a fan of Asian cinema, you will probably get some enjoyment out of it.

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