Directed by: Kim Ji-woon
Produced by: Kim Hyung-woo
Screenplay by: Park Hoon-jung
Starring: Lee Byung-hun
Music by: Mowg
Cinematography by: Lee Mo-gae
Editing by: Nam Na-young
Distributed by: Showbox/Mediaplex (South Korea)
Magnet Releasing (United States)
Optimum Entertainment (United Kingdom)
Release date(s): August 12, 2010 (South Korea)
March 4, 2011 (United States)
April 29, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 140 minutes
Country: South Korea
Budget: $6 million (reportedly)
Box office revenue: $12, 773, 990
Alright, as you can tell, I am now back in full force, churning out reviews at the rate that they really should be. As mentioned on a final note in my last review, I have now seen Beautiful Lies, the new French-language comedy starring Audrey Tautou, a review for which will follow this one. Also, I have since watched the suitably bonkers Drive Angry, so expect my opinions on that film soon. Finally, tomorrow I have penned in Tom Six's The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) for viewing. I will be watching that online tomorrow, because I am not paying the extortionate £13.99 prices that the UK's cut-version of the film is going for. I thought the first film was a good exploitation flick, so I hope that this will be as well. On this topic, I must say that the media publishing the BBFC's report on this film was a disgrace. The BBFC do a good job in policing films, but I would like to point out that Total Film, The Guardian, Metro and Digital Spy all published articles which revealed significant spoilers regarding the film. This was an absolute shambles, and the only mainstream press I have read which does the banning justice without spoiling the film is the BBC News' report, so kudos to them and shame on the rest. This is besides the point of this review, but keep your eyes posted on this blog!
The film up for review today, I Saw The Devil, ran into similar censorship issues in it's home country of South Korea. The Korea Media Rating Board objected to the film's content, and without cuts it would have received a 'Restricted' rating, preventing release on the theatrical and home video markets. This was unprecedented move, as director Kim Ji-woon's three previous films, A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life (his best to date) and The Good, The Bad, The Weird were all major financial and critical successes. In his latest film, Lee Byung-hun stars as Soo-hyun, an intelligence agent who attempts to track down the murderer of his fiance, played by Choi Min-sik. That is all you really need to know, as the plot reveals itself as the film goes along.
Starting with the good of I Saw The Devil, the two lead performances must be brought up. Lee Byung-hun portrays wonderfully the sense of tragedy to his character and the single-minded determination he approaches his task with. He has this extraordinary stoicism that means every single gesture is dictated by some deep-rooted emotion. Also, as the central heart of the film, he manages to be charismatic and watchable without any of the pretension that some of his peers possess. On the other side of the coin, Choi Min-sik does (appropriately) the complete opposite. Always full of intensity onscreen, the volume of this role makes his part in Oldboy seem suitably low-key. Nevertheless, he is insanely fascinating with his portrayal of this thoroughly repulsive character. Touching upon just about every aspect of the emotional spectrum, Choi Min-sik is astonishing and delivers what is probably the best supporting performance by a male actor I have seen this year. Other praiseworthy aspects of the film include Lee Mo-gae's fantastic cinematography. Kim Ji-woon is a visual storyteller in every sense, and Mo-gae's work complements this. In a film of this nature, this is very important. Despite the fact that there are some horrible and repulsive things going on, it is filmed with such a sense of panache and flair that you never want to tear your eyes from the screen. Also, Park Hoon-jung's script has some good elements about. Structurally, it is really something, as the first act begins at the emotional high point that most other thrillers end. This ensures that throughout the film you are kept guessing, and even still you will be unprepared for the third act climax, which is about as intense a series of scenes in a film you will see all year. Not to wag the dog, it does smack you on the head with a hammer! Finally, in what I would think is his most difficult film, Kim Ji-woon proves once again his great skill as a director. He has a great range, able to bounce from genre to genre, but still maintaining his consistently good style. Furthermore, his humanist approach to his work (and his characters) ensures that despite instances of extreme violence, his film's are handled with great care and empathy towards the audience.
Needless to say, I did like I Saw The Devil. However, I do think that there are a few issues that deny the film the status of the upper echelon. For instance, the script, while having very strong first and third acts, does have occasionally get flabby in the second act. There were certain scenes that were way too long-winded and as a result ended up getting boring. Also, the nature of the conflict between Soo-hyun and Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik's character) means that sometimes the action does get repetitive and you know where it is going. That said, the transition from second to third act is done so smoothly, it is easy to forget the weaknesses of the second act. Also, I feel that the film could have been cut by ten or fifteen minutes. This is not entirely the fault of the editor Nam Na-young, whose work has moments of brilliance throughout. Nor is the cutting necessitated by the film's violence. It is more due to some of the scenes of dialogue, which just seem to go on and on, coming across as too theatrical for the film's own good. I don't think it is important for all of the clutter in the film to remain, and it does feel as though this is an extended version with some deleted scenes to an already excellent film. As such, it does cause for lapses in interest in an otherwise fine film.
There is no doubt that I Saw The Devil has its issues. Overly long and occasionally problematic concerning the script, there is no doubt that with more vigilance in the editing room to thin the film out and erase it's repetition that this would be a masterpiece. Indeed, for all his talent, I still feel Kim Jee-woon has yet to make his masterpiece, and A Bittersweet Life is still as close as he's ever got to breaking through to the other side. However, his handled of this difficult film with difficult topic matter shows his directorial flair. Also, Lee Mo-gae's cinematography excels, placing emphasis on capturing the action in a stylistically innovative manner that looks gorgeous. It must be said that while Park Hoon-jung's second act is troublesome, the first and third acts of his script are masterfully written. The film's overall mise-en-scene, including production design, costumes and make up also add to the film's suitably dark atmosphere. Finally, you have two stellar performances, one from lead Lee Byung-hun and the other an extraordinary supporting turn from Choi Min-sik, ensuring that despite bothersome points, I Saw The Devil is nevertheless a great film that will provoke a reaction and stay with you for some time.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.3/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Solemn (not rushing myself and in a nice little zone)