I Saw the Devil comes from South Korea and stars Min-Sik Choi (he was the lead in Old Boy) as a diabolical serial killer. Helmer Jee-woon Kim previously directed The Good The Bad and The Weird. Kim winds his way through a bizarre plot that encompasses good and evil and at times hits the audience with a kind of cinematic blunt force trauma.
There is no devil; the demon aspect is merely metaphorical. And while there’s plenty of violence, torture and occasional gore the depth of characterization and sophistication of the story takes I Saw the Devil to a level well above tawdry torture porn genre films like the Saw franchise.
The opening shot has a lyrical expanse of snow swept road as seen from the inside of a car. The killer’s car has bright eye-like lights around the rear view mirror that accentuate the center of the frame. Then all hell breaks loose. The killer (Choi) spies a woman whose car has broken down. She’s on the phone to her boy friend, and he advises her to wait for the tow truck even while he coos a soft song over his cell.
It turns out the woman is pregnant and her b.f. (Byung-hun Lee, who also starred in Good Bad and Weird as well as G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra) is her fiancée and a government agent of sorts. When her body is found in pieces he takes a couple of weeks off his assignment. Using his official contacts Lee establishes a list of four suspects, whom he proceeds to beat into submission, one by one. When he finally zeros in on Choi, instead of killing him or bringing him to justice, Lee continues a game of cat and mouse that places him on a moral playing ground no better than the killer.
I Saw the Devil, which plays exclusively this weekend as a midnight show at the River Oaks Three, moves between extreme cruelty and lyrical beauty. This psychological thriller obviously demands an adult audience not swayed by its excursions into bloodletting and revenge.
— Michael Bergeron