Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Saw the Devil: Your Nightmare's Only Getting Worse

You would think, that after continuously ignoring actual plot synopses and horribly construing films based on what I thought they were about, I would someday actually read a synopsis before seeing a film. Naturally, I never learn from my mistakes and once again was misled into areas of stupid. This time, I thought we'd get to see the devil. I thought some malevolent demon from the underworld was busy killing some girls and some guy was tracking him down. Of course the film to a certain extent is about that, only there is no actual devil. Not like....this kind of devil.

Which is the best kind of devil. So anyways, there goes those hopes and dreams. But should this really affect my overall perception of the film? Definitely not or rather, I hope not. That being said however, whether or not I Saw the Devil is what I wanted to see, I'm still a bit on the fence on whether or not I really enjoyed it. Incidentally, I always picture a white picket fence when I envision myself "on the fence". Not that that's important, but some people need to know these things. There's also a lot of different fences out there so I like to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Where to begin? Oh, I know! How about a plot synopsis?!

After his fiance is brutally killed by a sick psychopath named Kyung-chul, special agent Soo-hyun decides to track the "devil" down and exact his revenge. His revenge however goes a little further than your standard revenge. For Soo-hyun, causing the same amount of pain that Kyung-chul caused him by killing his fiance, will take some time. 2 hours and 20 minutes to be exact and boy, is it exhausting.

We should all know by now how much I despise films longer than an hour and 30 minutes. In fact, the length of I Saw the Devil is what prevented me from seeing it in the theater when it came out in Boston. Unfortunately, the film adds on length to length by how Soo-hyun takes his revenge. He doesn't just track Kyung-chul down and kill him. Rather, he tracks him down, inflicts some horrible pain upon him then drops him off somewhere and repeats the cycle. Again and again and again. It somehow makes the film feel like 4 hours and 20 minutes rather than 2. This is very problematic for me, who had to take 3 days just to finish it. I tried not to whine, but I was very unsuccessful.

Now this isn't to say that I Saw the Devil is a bad film. There's a lot of interesting moments going on here and most especially there is a lot of just *interesting* in general. Like, interesting shots, interesting thematic developments, and interesting assessments on grieving and the cultural values associated with it. For me, what stands out are some of the shots. Like I said, these were interesting. There is no other word really. What is put before our eyes is some truly mind blowing bits of camera work.

Unfortunately, I can't give it too much credit for this because although I'm on the fence about the film, I do feel confident in kind of getting off. Well, with maybe one foot on the ground on one side. My main problem with I Saw the Devil is that it's too all over the place. It's not grounded in anything that truly captivates me the way that it should. There are these really superb moments of grief, and characterization and great camera work but then suddenly the film turns into an annoying action film and Soo-hyun turns into Spiderman. The constant cat and mouse came between the two is nothing short of exhausting. I feel like what I wanted the most--which was to delve deeper into the mind of Kyung-chul and even Soo-hyun, never happened because it was continuously being pushed aside for these strange fight scenes and displays of extreme gore and torture.

Some people do in fact love this about I Saw the Devil but me? I like quiet horror. Which is another thing, can I Saw the Devil really be classified as a horror film? I don't think so. Because it's TOO A.D.D. It never knows what it wants to be as evidenced by the strange soundtrack which seems to couple weird comedic music, with sad dragging classical pieces and finally actiony, fast paced beats. It's more about the people rather than the horror. And when all is said and done it's interesting to examine what exactly is going on there.

I guess what I'm saying is that the main fault of the film in my opinion is that it is much too redundant. I understand the implications behind this, and why it is important that the revenge goes a little deeper than normal revenge, but explaining it away doesn't change the fact that it's there. This same sort of logic can be applied to how frustrating the cops and detectives are in this. They really could not figure this out? How easy was it for Soo-hyun to find out where Kyung-chul lived? Oh right, just ask his SON. I mean really? Granted there was that whole set up issue in the beginning but I think they could have realized that that was a little too suspicious for comfort. Again, things like this feel like plot holes that can be explained away but they still exist and that's a problem for me.

Still, I Saw the Devil is insanely brutal and even grimly sexualized at points. If extreme violence and cringing scenes of creepy rape and murder are your thing, than you will probably enjoy this. There is an especially fantastic scene that takes place in a taxi cab that will probably have you shouting out loud. Also, if one of your goals in life is to stare straight into a toilet filled with diarrhea and watch a man sift through it with his hands, then you my friend, are in luck! There's also a lot of head trauma in this which makes me raise another important question---WHY AREN'T PEOPLE DYING AFTER BEING HIT IN THE HEAD? Don't people usually die in movies when they get hit like once with a pipe? Here however, characters are continuously pelted with blunt objects, blood sprays out from their heads and they somehow are still alive moments later. Yup, I'm calling shenanigans on that one.

Overall, I think I'd like I Saw the Devil more if it stuck to one tone throughout. This is a film that got a ton of acclaim when it came out but I mostly felt disappointment. Which means of course that I'm right and everyone is wrong. Or it could mean that people just have very different tastes. Maybe, because the gore and violence is so great and mind blowing, people feel that that was enough to seal the deal. Maybe others find that even throughout all the violence and hate, there still remains a deep sense of sadness underneath it all, causing the film to be much deeper than at first glance. There are many reasons to like a film like this and there just as many reasons to not like it. Such is life my friends. Such is life.

Also, It's time to play: Funny Subtitles!


Mikey Sarago said...

Good review! I've been waiting for this film to appear on Netflix instant, and now that it's finally there, I lost interest. I was afraid it was gonna be all ADD-ish and use gore as its focal point, which usually bores the crap out of me. And it seems like that's the case. Blurgh!!! Think I'm gonna skip this one for now.

Also...ya had to go and post a pic of that scary ass devil. Damn you to hell, Andre.

Andre Dumas said...

Hahahaha I was thinking of you when I posted it too! I almost forgot to put it in but remembered at the last moment. He IS kind of traumatizing though you are right. The more I look at him.....the more.....convinced I am that he's residing in a locked closet somewhere. Yikes!

Anyways, sorry for bursting your bubble but yeah whatever I'm always right so I did you a favor ; )

CashBailey said...

This movie is amazing.

Kim Ji-woon may well be my favourite filmmaker working today. He's not made a movie yet that I didn't absolutely love.

CashBailey said...

Actually, Andre, you do make a very good point about the bludgeonings.

As much as I liked this loved this movie it got to a point where I was convinced that it must break some kind of cinematic record for the amount of blows to the head with a blunt object.

And that taxi scene is one of the most audacious, inventive kills these eyes have ever seen.

Andre Dumas said...

Thanks Cash, I like to think I know when to call shenanigans when I see them.

And hell to the yes on the taxi-cab. I felt like my head was going to explode and also maybe that I was going to barf (although I might blame that on the swift rotation of the camera..)!

I'm starting to think that I as a human being and film goer just do not *get* Kim Ji-woon's stuff. Although I've only seen this and a Tale of two Sisters. Which I also didn't really like where as everyone else seemed to love. Sigh. I want to though. I do : (

CashBailey said...

Other movies of Kim's that you need to see are A BITTERSWEET LIFE, which is kind of like an ultra-stylish Korean riff on a Hong Kong action movie, and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE WEIRD, his awesome tribute to the Sergio Leone westerns.

Yeah, all of his movies tend to run a bit long. But you could say that for the majority of Korean movies. They're always a good 20 minutes longer than they really need to be.

But when they're generally full of so much good stuff I don't really mind.

Chris Hewson said...

Andre, find a copy of Kim Ji-woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird immediately! It's absolutely amazing and will blow your mind!

Eddie said...

Who broke your balls?.....If i could speak I'd tell ya!!! OUCH!!! Hi Andre.

The Mike said...

So there's not actually any sawing? I was wondering if it was a circular saw or chainsaw or table saw the whole time.

Also, The Howling Man = <3.

Unknown said...

If I may input my little opinion about your saying it was kinda all over the place in terms of theme and even genre at times. To be fair, that seems to be fairly true of ALL Korean films, or at least all the ones I've seen. Honestly I think that's just a part of the culture.