Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Chun Kook-haun, Chun Ho-jin, Oh San-ha, Kim Yoon-seo, Choi Moo-seong, Kim In-seo
Written by: Park Hoon-jung
Directed by: Kim Jee-woon
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Korean, with English subtitles
Running Time: 141
Date: 08/12/2010

I Saw the Devil (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Raw Dealing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The title I Saw the Devil is not misleading, unless you consider that the Devil is supposed to be tempting and alluring. The devil in this movie is just evil. He's Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik), a serial killer who enjoys kidnapping women and chopping them up. He really enjoys it. He doesn't seem compelled to do it, nor does he appear tortured or upset about it. He does it like he might dab paint onto a canvas, like a hobby he's good at.

It gets worse. As the film begins, Kyung-chul does his business to one particularly beautiful girl (Oh San-ha). Unfortunately, she turns out to be the girlfriend of secret service agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun). Soo-hyun calmly takes two weeks off from work and sets to work not only capturing the killer, but also tormenting him as much as possible (including severing an ankle tendon, among other things). However, Kyung-chul is no pushover. He gives as good as he gets, and soon these two dangerous adversaries are playing an incredibly gory, vicious cat-and-mouse game with one another.

Director Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) does well with his cast: Choi was the grizzled star of Oldboy, brutal and dangerous, and Lee is the dashing, handsome star of The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Kim makes the most of their very visual contrast, sleek martial arts versus brute strength. Their fight takes them to some extraordinary places: a beautiful greenhouse, a nighttime snowfall, and a huge, empty hotel (with a big kitchen). Kim uses these settings with sinister glee, crossing the serenity of the spaces with the violence of the fight.

However, as with Kim's previous feature, I Saw the Devil is needlessly long (141 minutes), far too long to sustain such a nasty idea. Kim can't really keep constantly escalating things for that long, and so the drama is occasionally drawn thin. But otherwise, the movie is so constantly clever and effective that it's worth a look, especially for fans of Asian exploitation films.

Best Buy Co, Inc.