Friday, 20 May 2011

I Saw The Devil DVD review

Backstage at Stars In Their Eyes: not a pretty sight
It’s when you press play on films like this controversial revenge shocker from South Korean director Kim Ji-Woon that you become increasingly aware of how old you are. Do you really want to put yourself through it? Has your youthful tolerance for shock and excess eroded over time and should you instead reach for the Sight & Sound and hunt for some Hungarian film about farming? 

In the case of I Saw The Devil, though, the ‘you could hang every frame on your wall’ arthouse gang have partially balanced out the equation, creating the suggestion of an ugly-beauty dichotomy, a brutal aesthetic that makes it ok to bring it up at the dinner table. It’s hard to argue with that. I Saw The Devil is a striking piece of work – visually lavish and confidently directed, handling a difficult subject matter with an effortlessly sure hand. After his pregnant wife is killed in horrific circumstances by a notorious serial killer (played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik),  a government agent (Lee Byung-Hun) embarks on a personal vendetta of brutal revenge, making it his mission to make sure that his wife's killer's life is a living hell too, playing cat and mouse by basically fucking the murderer up at every opportunity - but always making sure that he lives for the next dose.  It has all the key elements for a really grim day at the cinematic office, but director Kim’s execution marks it out as something far more compelling and moving. It looks incredible, reminiscent of Chris Doyle’s work with Wong Kar-Wai, with a bold colour scheme and potent composition – this should instead be called In The Mood For Blood. The soundtrack is equally lush, which could have pointed towards a fetishized approach to the violence, but that’s effortlessly kept in check by the moral underpinning. One of the strongest elements of Asian revenge spIatter bonanzas, from the Babycart films to Lady Vengeance, is the tragic note of unbearable loss and draining sadness that the violence is trying in vain to extinguish. I  recently heard I Saw The Devil described as a critique on the South Korean revenge genre, and that strikes me as spot on. As well as carrying that tone of crippling misery, there are clear references to other revenge films – the hamstring cut from Park Chan-Wook’s Sympathy For Mr Vengeance for a start – with Kim suggesting that this cycle is intrinsically futile. Though packed with acts of vengeance, I Saw The Devil debunks its validity: “Revenge is for the movies.” Nobody comes out of this with any credit or satisfaction. Kim’s direction is as deft as it is canny – though filming violent, shocking scenes with an undeniable opulence, the choice of framing and composition offers a neutrality that offers no endorsement, nor encourages any – he simply seems to be showing us the events. This clinical distance does however highlight the one troubling moment in the film, the rape sequence that caused the original fuss – for a film so punctuated with pathos and logic, this unsettling scene has a relish that sits pretty uncomfortably.

Perhaps I Saw The Devil’s reflective, pensive undercurrent means that it isn’t as enjoyable as Oldboy, but thanks to some quality performances and the obviously stunning execution, it’s hard to advise you against watching something as powerful.   

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