“An eye for an eye,” said Mahatma Gandhi, “will make the world go blind.” Before going on to add, “and it will be really gross, yeah, cos you’ll like see the eyeballs exploding out of its head, and all the blood and puss and stuff will go everywhere!! And it’ll be staggering around all blind and shit, until it steps in the giant bear trap I’ve laid out for it. That’ll show it. That’ll fucking show The World.”
He therefore would’ve loved the bloodthirsty vengeance on display in ‘I Saw the Devil’, the extravagantly violent new movie from Korean director Kim Jee-woon (The Good The Bad The Weird, A Tale of Two Sisters). It stars Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) as Kyung-Chul, a viciously depraved serial killer with a penchant for sexually assaulting and decapitating his female victims. After several years of trouble-free homicide, he makes the mistake of killing the pregnant wife of Soo-Hyun, a hard-as-nails government agent who becomes obsessed with extracting a brutal and prolonged revenge.
Soo-Hyun tracks the killer down and administers the most almighty beatdown imaginable, including some unwatchable limb-snapping action that even Steven Seagal would be proud of (WARNING: that last link is fucking mental..) However, instead of finishing him off there and then, he lets the killer go, having secretly planted a GPS tracker on him. There follows an intricate game of cat-and-mouse with Soo-Hyun monitoring his adversary’s location via an app on his mobile phone, popping up sporadically to dole out further punishment. Basically, if you were one of those people who watched A Serbian Film and thought to themselves “Yum, those scenes of horrifying sexual violence were awesome! If only the film could’ve had more of a Foursquare kinda vibe as well..” then this will literally be your ideal movie.
For everyone else, well, it’s fine. Kim Jee-woon is clearly a massively talented and exciting director at the very top of his game and brings to the film an astonishing visual flair along with a very dark sense of humour. At 144 minutes, however, it’s probably a bit too long. Once Soo-Hyun has captured, tortured and released Kyung for the 4th or 5th time, I had pretty much got the idea. Also, such a long run-time means that inevitably the film starts to get a little silly towards the end. There’s one bit, for example, where Kyung goes to stay the night with an old friend – who also happens to be a serial killer. There is, apparently, an international fraternity of depraved maniacs out there, who regularly go round each other’s houses to compare notes on the latest sick shit to do to their victims. Presumably they’re all friends on Facebook?
Also, despite suffering some pretty grisly injuries each time he gets caught, Kyung doesn’t seem to have too much trouble picking himself up and carrying on. Sooner or later, by the laws of medical science, surely this would happen?
The film is currently showing at the ICA in London before being released on DVD/Blu-Ray on the 9th May. All in all, it’s pretty good gory fun and features an outstanding central performance from Choi Min-sik as the remorseless psycho-killer. His character is so irredeemably wicked in fact (continuing to get his rape on until the bitter end) that we the audience find ourselves enthusiastically cheering Soo-hyun on as he doles out ever more brutal punishments. It’s an interesting thing for a film to do I think – we’re essentially made to feel complicit in vigilante torture – and some may leave the cinema feeling a little uncomfortable at just how much they enjoyed watching a man having his tendons hacked apart with a rusty scalpel. We’re supposed to have evolved beyond this as a society haven’t we? Don’t we have laws and prisons and policemen and things precisely so we don’t need to indulge in Jacobean eye-for-an-eye acts of vengeance?
It’s probably fine here though as the film is so obviously an escapist fairy tale. It’s not as if we’d all join in a euphoric mass celebration over the death of an actual real live human being or anything, right? Would we.