‘I Saw The Devil’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 7:05 am,

I Saw the Devil Still 1 I Saw The Devil Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews I Saw The Devil

Korean director Ji-woon Kim is quickly gaining notoriety as a cinematic auteur who is able either bend and/or blend genres in order to create something new, unique, strange and/or disturbing. Kim’s horror movie / family drama A Tale of Two Sisters became the highest-grossing horror movie in Korea, and his homage to spaghetti Westerns, The Good the Bad, the Weird, has become a cult-hit in its own right.

With I Saw The Devil, Ji-woon Kim explores the serial killer thriller from something of a unique angle, and the result is a film that is sure to solicit visceral reactions from viewers that will likely include shock, disgust, horror, and even a fair bit of laughter.

The story centers around Soo-hyeon Kim (G.I. Joe‘s Byung-hun Lee), a highly-trained special agent whose fiancée goes missing one night after her car broke down on the side of the road. The girl’s father is a local police chief, and after an extensive search the worst is confirmed when her body is found hacked to pieces and scattered in and around a creek. Her father is shattered, but Agent Kim deals with his grief in a different way: by seeking vengeance.

It doesn’t take Kim long to find his man: a deranged psycho named Kyung-Chul (Oldboy star Min-sik Choi) whose great thrill in life is abducting young girls, degrading them, then chopping them up into bits after he has them begging for their lives. If that wasn’t enough, we quickly learn that sexual assault, intimidation, and generally hurting and/or murdering anyone he comes across are also personal passions of Kyung-Chul This man is clearly evil incarnate – a mad dog that needs to be put down.

But Agent Kim isn’t interested in simply killing Kyung-Chul – no, that would be too simple. Instead (and here is where this film will surely polarize viewers), Agent Kim chooses to trap the psychopath in an intricate game of cat-and-mouse, in which the killer’s every move is countered by Agent Kim, and for every new foul deed Kyung-Chul attempts, Kim extracts another pound of flesh as punishment.

However, the line between hunter and prey is a thin one, and Agent Kim soon finds that he may be in over his head (and risking his sanity) in his quest for the ultimate revenge.

If you’re a fan of Korean cinema, then you should already know how extreme it can be at times. I don’t mean “extreme” in terms of the juvenile display in taboos or shockandawe that you get in American films, but rather the tendency to gaze into the darkest of human experiences with an unflinching eye. I Saw The Devil starts off on pretty horrific foot and only builds upon that horror from then on. Kyung-Chul is probably one of the most brutal and frightening cinematic killers we’ve seen this side of Hannibal Lecter – but like Anthony Hopkins did with Lecter, Min-sik Choi’s sheer charisma and talent as an actor makes his reprehensible character totally engaging and at times very funny…if only inappropriately so.

i saw the devil I Saw The Devil Review

By contrast, Agent Kim is quiet, mostly expressionless (save for that raging-yet-tempered fury in his eyes) and he’s really not the most exciting character to watch (except for when he’s in the midst of a graceful martial arts display). This film embraces the modern obsession with featuring villains as protagonists: we meet Kyung-Chul very early on in the film, and there are no illusions that this guy is the killer. He’s a lively and charismatic scene-stealer, and most of the movie’s run time is (wisely) dedicated to following this psycho from one dark encounter to the next.

The film gets especially bizarre in the second act when Kyung-Chul attempts to take refuge in a hijacked home with a serial killer “pal” of his, who also happens to be a cannibal (yeah, you read that right). It is stops like these along this “odyssey” of sorts that will likely distinguish I Saw The Devil as a cult hit. The other thing about the film that will likely burn it into viewers’ minds (for better or worse) is the commitment Ji-woon Kim has to his often off-putting subject matter.

There are is a distinctly purposed way in which Kim shot this film, making it grossly intimate at the most disturbing moments possible (Kyung-Chul’s encounter with a young girl in a doctor’s office comes to mind) – but not in a gratuitous way, where there is some deep-seeded thrill at seeing these horrible or violent acts occur onscreen. In fact, the film’s awesome tension comes from seeing tightly-framed and excruciatingly long takes of Kyung-Chul (or his cohorts) gleefully committing some sick and merciless deed, while we, the audience, are held hostage as powerless voyeurs, practically praying in each instance that Agent Kim will swoop in to stop the bad guy and punish him before more human misery can be doled out.

The fact that this cycle continues for well over two hours was utterly draining for me, and will likely be for most viewers; there were multiple instances where I checked my watch hoping that this film was done with its macabre exhibition, only to find myself having to sit through yet another squirm-inducing scene. I couldn’t look away, but I also wanted it to be over sooner before later, which left me somewhere in a neutral zone in terms of how much I “enjoyed” the film.

I Saw The Devil Choi Min Sik I Saw The Devil Review

One great accomplishment of I Saw The Devil is that Ji-woon Kim manages to in some ways make the hero’s retribution equally as disturbing if not more disturbing than the killer’s indulgences. Each time Agent Kim “punishes” Kyung-Chul, it’s in a way that makes your skin crawl. You don’t really want to applaud this guy so much as you’re left wondering just how twisted his grief and loss are making him. Byung-hun Lee’s chiseled face, blank expression and that possessed look in his hollowed eyes are often scarier than the mischievous smile Min-sik Choi flashes before dispatching yet another victim. It’s a great juxtaposition that perfectly exhibits the concept of what happens when one stares too deep into the abyss.

As I stated before, there is one hinge to this movie that will surely polarize viewers: whether or not you can understand the idea of someone allowing a vicious killer to roam free for the sake of some deeper concept of justice/revenge. Every time Kyung-Chul hurts another person in the film,  its hard not to be annoyed with Agent Kim for not killing this guy from the outset, and that agitation will be enough to make a some viewers write this film off as another example of a “stupid” story that hinges on a character making “idiotic” decisions that no one in their right mind would make in real life. Whether that assessment is true or not is irrelevant – it’s going to be the knee-jerk reaction that some people have after seeing I Saw The Devil, and it’s arguably a fair criticism to level at the film.

In the end, this movie is for cult fans who know exactly what they’re getting into and have experience with the extreme nature of Korean cinema. Those looking for a more conventional serial killer thriller, this film would likely turn your stomach and dim your soul.

Check out the trailer for I Saw The Devil:

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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  1. Holy crap. This sounds awesome.

  2. Can’t wait to see this one! It looks like smash.:D

  3. AM going to be honest. This is one of the best movies I seen. I know there isn’t really any character development but damn the over all tone of it is dark as disturbing as hell. The ending gave me chills down my spine. The soundtrack was amazing as well. I listen to it daily. Its brutal and dark. Hollywood should take notes!

    • alot of people say it’s bad b/c of the one dimensional characters but that’s not gonna stop me from watching this. i dont mind the occasional foreign movie from time to time so guess i’ll be watching this when i get the chance.

      how graphic/violent is this compared to other movies of its genre (preferably ones from hollywood) ?

      • its been Banned from Korean theaters. thats how graphic it is. but it not so much the blood but the scenes that take place are disturbing

  4. where can i see this? i think ill pirate it:]

  5. Wait, so you’re saying that the cop’s acts against the murderer can be considered worse than the murderer’s acts?? I don’t disagree that maybe the acts themselves could be worse without looking at who is involved, but the fact that those acts are against someone who murders innocent people makes those acts BETTER in my opinion. The more disturbing the better because a murderer like that described here DESERVES to be tortured as much as possible. The best scene in Taken was when Neeson’s character got some “quality time” with Marco. I only wish he had that much time for each and every person involved in his daughter’s abduction.

    Not saying I’m interested in this movie, because it seems like you’re saying the scenes are overly drawn-out, which can really kill the pacing of a movie, but based on your description, the cop tormenting the serial killer is definitely 100% the protagonist in my opinion, REGARDLESS of what he does to the serial killer… I really mean regardless, no matter how sick or demented, the guy is a serial killer, he deserves it, end of story.

    • I thought you Terminators like to kill expeditiously? 8-)

    • I wouldn’t say those scenes were drawn out. Films like this have long shots, sometimes with complete silence, sometimes nothing is happening, but it always is showing something interesting.

      As far as the torture scenes go, there are quite a few of them, and they are pretty in your face, but they don’t last that long, and if they do, it’s really not that bad. The hardest scene to watch for me was probably the scene in the doctors office, I won’t say what it is, but for others that have seen it, I’m sure they can back me up in saying that that scene was pretty tough to watch.

      Again though, it wasn’t at all extended, I don’t see where the Reviewer is getting that the scenes were overly extended at all.

  6. I saw this movie a few months ago and I have to say, I really enjoyed it. It definitely does something different with the serial killer film and the main “hero’s” actions are just as disturbing as the “villain”. It also shows how revenge can effect those surrounding the situation and not just the main players, in a really great way.

  7. To those who really agree that torturing murderers is a good thing, why aren’t you out there doing it? Is it only the law that holds you back? It seems as though it is an understandable instinct, but not exactly a good way to go. Then there’s the old, I’ll get revenge on you, well you killed my family member, so I’ll get revenge on you, yada yada.

    I do agree that preying on a killer is not the same as tormenting the innocent, but the film sometimes shows what the protagonist does in more gory detail than what the murderers do. Perhaps that’s what the reviewer’s referring to, though I don’t want to put words in his mouth.

    Great review. However I disagree that the “hero” is an idiot because he lets the villain go, and I’m not sure why viewers would think that. I interpreted his willingness to free him as part of his one track mind. Even if his actions caused other people to be hurt or die, he was in the zone of tormenting this man as much as possible. His friend even commented that he looked different. Disturbing film!

    • “However I disagree that the “hero” is an idiot because he lets the villain go, and I’m not sure why viewers would think that. I interpreted his willingness to free him as part of his one track mind. Even if his actions caused other people to be hurt or die, he was in the zone of tormenting this man as much as possible. His friend even commented that he looked different. Disturbing film!”

      Exactly! He isn’t an idiot at all, in fact, he’s become so in the zone that he is now just as bad as the killer he is after. He lets others get hurt just so he can torture the killer.

  8. I’m very excited about this. Is it being released in the theaters here in the states?



  9. Everyone amped to see this should watch The Chaser first, the decid if I Saw the Devil is required viewing. Reading this article I was reminded of it. The Chaser deals with he same subjects but doesn’t spend as much time drawing out the extreme and disturbing acts on screen. There also isn’t a complete mental break by the protagonist. I loved some of the Korean films I’ve been watching lately, but I think I’ll skip this one. I have enough scars from intensely controversial movies I’ve seen over the years.

  10. it will “dim your soul”

    sounds like a great excuse NOT to see this one lol. IMO ive had trouble with these types of movies since Ichi the Killer, which was just so down roght over the top violent I had to laugh at it just so I didn’t feel sick to my stomach. I’ll skip this one for now.

  11. downright*

  12. 3 out of 5 stars????? wat kind of rating is that? just curious what did iron man 2 get ??

    • That’s irrelevant – Kofi reviewed this and I reviewed Iron Man 2.


    • to elaborate on vic’s point: apples and oranges, htf can you compare a movie about serial killers to ironman 2 ?

  13. This and ‘The Man from Nowhere’ were bar none the best films from South Korea last year (action genre of course, the overall best belongs to the masterpiece that is Shi’ aka Poetry)

    I would say that while it’s nowhere near perfect it deserves a solid 3.5

  14. As far as Agent Kim’s character goes, playing cat and mouse with the serial killer didn’t seem to me something that a sane person would do.

    Spoilers ahead…..

    I think you are right in saying “Every time Kyung-Chul hurts another person in the film, its hard not to be annoyed with Agent Kim for not killing this guy from the outset” BUT, we have to look deeper at Agent Kim’s character. At first, it seems as if it’s just revenge, but as we get further and further into the characters, we realize that Agent Kim is no longer sane, he is full of rage, and he is now just as bad as the man he is after. He is allowing him to attack people, he definitely jumps in to take over the situation when he can, but not because he wants to save someone (the nurse for instance) but because he wants revenge, and he’s going to allow the killer to get close, but never quite get what he’s after, whether that involves someone getting hurt in the process, it doesn’t seem to matter.

    By the end of the film, with that wild twist of an ending, I could see just how crazy agent Kim had become, and I think that final scene, with him crying, is the realization of what he had done, he was so caught up in taking care of this guy, that the people that loved him were hurt as well, and he never blinked once over it.

    I thought this was an incredible film, I’d give it 5 out of 5, 4.5 for those of you who don’t like sitting through a film this long.

    • I think that the final scene with him crying, showed how he needed do all these things, for only this way, he can beginning his mourning

  15. Radical. Plus, this guy’s flicks have editing that Stuart Baird would be proud of.

  16. I hope they make a english version or a dubbed version

  17. Just watched it and I give it the same, 3 out of 5.
    Min-sik Choi carries most of the heavy lifting, and damn is he good. The guy has the full range of emotions which he just seems to pull right out of nowhere, instantly, on demand.
    The unfortunate thing is, the movie took from hollywood horror movies with the “now you seem, now you dont” editing. For example, the room is totally silent as one character looks around and it’s completely empty and then all of a sudden the bad guy is right behind him. That type of scare really is old.
    The other thing that bothered me is like the cops doing crazy u-turns right in the middle of rush hour on busy streets as civilians jam their brakes in panic and slide all over the road. This sort of thing took away from an otherwise solidly creepy horror movie.

  18. I SAW THE DEVIL and Asian/Korean film in general…a primer…
    You can see this film in it’s ENTIRETY for FREE at the BEST site on the web, http://www.Asian-horror-movies.com they have THOUSANDS of HORROR FILMS and the new wave of KOREAN horror, which puts AMERICAN HORROR TO SHAME, with the incredible production values, twists, and sheer unflinching camera work. These are NOT for the squeamish, they are also NOT in anyway edited, they’re the REAL deal..and a mere donation is all that’s asked for. Although if you don’t have it don’t worry about it, you can watch this website ALL DAY and get through maybe 2-3 films as KOREA has now outdone Japan, and everyone else for the incredible story lines, twists, and the mixture of TRUE HORROR, (what could be more horrible than being chopped up by a mad man}. This is the truth…try it you’ll love it and hopefully it will teach westerns a thing about HORROR and PROCESS vs OUTCOME, very few Asian films are tied up in a pretty bow with everything explained…however, the OTHER superb film out right now is about a SERIAL CHILD KILLER and every character is cared about, meaning you care about everyone, it’s a tear jerker and bitter sweet and I give an ELEVEN out of ten…it’s called WORLD OF SILENCE, mind blowing, it will keep you guessing until the end…which most of these Korean films do and it’s NOT all horror, it’s a mixture of fantasy, SHOCK, you name it, they have it..from ALL asian countries, even what many would think of as 3rd world countries like INDOCHINA, has some excellent films…I cannot say enough about this site..it’s superb…I mean SUPERB…but, Get ready for your heart rate to increase as these asian directions really hold nothing back, as they don’t have to, the AMERICAN industry, instead of making HORRID remakes, which Im sure they will then dumb them down for a P-13, as the film above is NO ONE UNDER 18 or NC-17..seriously although they don’t have a rating system like we do…it’s just amazing how POORLY many of these films were remade, mainly KAIRO (PULSE) which was so scary I could barely watch it..While you can TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS and for GOODNESS SAKE (pun inteded, you’ll need some), donate five bucks…it’s nothing for the continual treat you get like SORUM, GANTZ, live and anime, Ju ON, both the grudge films and the curse films, plus everything ever done by PARK, CHAN, KURO you name it.like RINNE, (reincarnation), seaence, THey are ALL highly alligorical and whatch it, the’re IN YOUR FACE you think AMERICAN horor is hard to watch.HAHAH.wait till you see this stuff, it will blow your mind. AGAIN and AGAIN an AGAIN it’s SUPERB!!!! Sadly some of these will be remade in the USA, and for that I can only say to the orean people, directors and studios, etc i’m so sorry. Forgive us, we now NOT what we do.


    Please take note of these HOT Korean horror/mystery/supernatural and flat out SHOCK films…
    301, 302
    A Blood Pledge
    A Tale of Two Sisters – ONE OF THE BEST
    Antarctic Journal
    Arang SUPERB
    Bloody Beach
    Dead Friend
    Death Bell
    Doll Master
    Evil Twin
    A Ghost Story of Joseon Dynasty
    Hansel and Gretel
    Into the Mirror – VERY WELL DONE, remade here with KIEFER SUTHERLAND< not even CLOSE to original..had to wrap it all up and the usual DUMBED DOWN, as the director of the RING said he would NEVER work in the US again.because of the studios and their CONSTANT harassment.

    Memento Mori
    Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait
    Paradise Murdered
    Phone – EXCELLENT
    The Quiet Family
    The Record
    The Red Shoes – EXCELLENT
    The Ring Virus
    Say Yes
    Someone Behind You
    Suddenly at Midnight
    Tell Me Something
    Thirst – SUPERB, new take on VAMPIRES!!! and FUNNY in sports.
    Three ("Memories" segment)
    Three… Extremes ("Cut" segment) — FRUIT CHAN's dumplings…omg, watch out…it's MINDBLOWINGLY HORRIFIC, her "diet"

    To Sir, with Love
    Unborn But Forgotten
    The Uninvited – NOT, the american remake that was the SUPERB, KOREAN "TALE OF TWO SISTER"S which wa of couse BUTCHERD, and horrific……
    Whispering Corridors – EXCELLENT and yet another film which is heavily AGAINST the KOREAN school system and i'ts brutalit.
    Wishing Stairs

    and HOT Korean horror directors

    Ahn Byeong-ki – director of the horror films Nightmare, Phone, Bunshinsaba, and APT
    Bong Joon-ho – director of the horror film The Host and writer of Antarctic Journal
    Kim Dong-bin – director of the horror films The Ring Virus and Redeye
    Park Ki-hyeong – director of the horror films Whispering Corridors and Acacia
    Kim Ji-woon – director of the horror films A Tale of Two Sisters, Three (the segment "Memories"), and The Quiet Family
    Kong Su-chang – director of the horror films Tell Me Something and R-Point
    EVERYONE one of these plus HONG KONG/ Mainlaind China,

  20. I agree with your assessment of the film.

    I do however think that this film has some underlying genius in it.

    I was disappointed at the ending of the film, and felt that his revenge was not what he wanted, or that it was meaningless. Then I remember the conversation he had with his deceased fiancée’s sister, which blatantly said what he was doing was meaningless. Usually i have a sick spot for revenge movies, and I always want the person to get revenge even though everyone in the movie says “don’t do it, its not gonna bring so and so back!” i just ignore it and hope he gets his sweet revenge. This movie was a movie where in the end i felt that he did mess things up and it was meaningless.

    It was a difficult watch, and it was long, and brutal, but overall I think the delivery was well done. Cinematography was also really well done.

  21. As the film gains exposure worldwide. I remain puzzled by the seeming lack of recognition by reviewers that this well-made, often ghastly and at times visually kinetic opus to violent revenge is, for all intents and purposes, a live action “Itchy and Scratchy Show”…