I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil ★★

Fun fact: Every female character in this film with more than one scene is either raped, or tortured, or both.

There are no stranger bedfellows than Korean melodrama and extreme violence. To balance two such diametrically opposed modes would require a great deal of skill and a deep understanding of tonal shifts. Park Chan-wook has pulled it off in the past; his Vengeance trilogy deals almost exclusively with graphic brutality and emotional beats. In the hands of a lesser director, such as Kim Jee-woon, the inability to correctly apply balance creates a film that does not withstand any sort of scrutiny whatsoever. This is what the kids like to call a hot mess.

I don't want to shitty up the activity feed of anyone who follows me so I'll attempt to be brief. The plot is its own worst enemy. The driving force of the entire film is this grey morality, the question of whether the vigilante justice being meted out is appropriate. There are no shades of grey, however, when every character has but a single dimension. The antagonists are almost comically evil, to the point where they stop existing as actual characters and just become caricatures instead. On top of this, the story is laden with contrivances. The filmmakers don't trust the audience to be intelligent enough to figure out what the main plot devices are so they go to some length to spell things out for us. The tech devices used to track the killer (a deus ex machina if ever I saw one) are lingered on, REMEMBER THIS AUDIENCE THIS IS IMPORTANT. The pursuit depends on the killer having an electronic leash which works in the most convenient ways (apparently is has a microphone that broadcasts flawlessly from inside a person?). This leash is slipped in the third act, only to somehow miraculously reappear later on. Without spoiling anything, there's no physical way the device could have found its way back to where it does at the end. Plot hole ahoy! Don't even get me started on the photograph taken of the 'hero' leaving the scene of some vigilante action which tips the police off to his involvement (who took the picture? why did they take the picture? Argh)

The dialogue serves to reinforce the way the audience is patronised. Just in case you weren't keeping up with the fact that the awful acts committed by the 'hero' in the name of revenge are slowly turning him into a monster himself, at least two characters refer to it explicitly. Not in natural, flowing dialogue, they stop to give monologues. MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT WE ARE DOING AUDIENCE IT WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER. If you struggle with dialogue it's cool, we got your back, have some flashbacks to key plot elements juuuust in case.

Tonally the film lurches from melodrama to tension to melodrama to tension. In the middle of the revenge spree the 'hero' receives a phone call from his dead girlfriend's family telling him to stop, breaking up any sort of momentum the pursuit had gained til that point. I use the term tension very loosely here; everything is telegraphed well in advance. It becomes laughable how predictable the sequences are. The pacing is terrible and uneven - why anyone thought this needed to last nearly two and a half hours is beyond me. The third act feels tacked on because it sticks out like a sore thumb, and it plays out like a weak attempt at a horror film, complete with you should have answered the phone before you answered the door to let the killer in scene. Its sole purpose seems to be to steal an idea from Se7en wholesale (pregnancy reveal to taunt 'hero') and then its spiritual successor Saw with an elaborate death setup. The killer, who somehow has the phone number for the chief of police (another plot hole ahoy!) taunts the 'hero' asking WHO HAS WON HAVE YOU WON OR HAVE I WON because the audience might not be making that connection due to the fucking terrible way the film is put together.

In the interests of fairness, the production values are quite high. Some of the shot choices are interesting and the colour palette pops. It's an interesting concept, having the killer being hunted as prey for the majority of the film, but it's spoiled entirely by shitty characterisation which evokes nothing remotely approaching empathy or sympathy for any of the characters. The music cues beat you round the head attempting to manipulate you into feeling one way or another and the violence is not incorporated in a way that's believable; once again, it feels downright comical at times and the practical effects are pretty corny.

I am really bad at being brief but this film is really bad at almost everything it does so WHO HAS WON HAVE I WON OR HAS IT WON