Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Saw The Devil Review

I don’t really know what to make out of liking this movie. I held on to a few negative impressions throughout the film, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of it, so a lot must have been done right.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I feel like the main character was poorly developed. You don’t learn too much about him except that he loves his wife who happens to be the daughter of the police chief under whom he works. In a crazy twist of fate, a sadomasochistic serial killer and rapist finds and murders his her, leaving the head to drift in the river. Her father, as the chief of police, handles the situation quite passively, dedicating his time to smoking and brooding, but never completely overwhelmed by the loss of his daughter. The main character, however, takes it upon himself to exact revenge against the man who took his wife away from him. He must love her more than her own father, I guess.  By then, you know you’re in for a revenge story, but not as formulaic as other movies in this genre.

The protagonist isn’t satisfied with finding and killing his “prey.” Instead, he wants the man to suffer. So he plays a game of hide and seek. He finds the killer, brutally beats him, and lets him survive and escape. Obviously, the killer can’t go to the police to report being harassed by a member of the police force, as he is now a convicted man. As soon as this killing game begins, you learn nothing more about the protagonist. He transforms into a merciless hunter who seldom speaks. This transformation is evident by his change of clothes from business attire to a bulky hooded jacket and from the contrast between an early, cheerful conversation with his wife and his later social interactions. But you can’t say with certainty that his personality, which wasn’t entirely established, was affected; and he doesn’t seem to be conflicted about what he’s doing, which is strange for law enforcement, especially in a world that I’d like to take seriously.

So what are my main problems? Outside of an outstanding performance, the protagonist’s personality is quite flat. Besides a desire to avenge his wife, he comes across as quite emotionless.

On to what worked. For starters, the lighting. You’ll notice immediately that this is quite the dark tale. The lighting does a good job of complimenting this idea without becoming too focused on itself. There are scenes of light and dark working in contrast in several shots, which does call to attention that this quest for vengeance isn’t a mindless act of evil. It helps to show the goodness of the protagonist. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of the director, but that’s what I got out of it. The contrast also puts more attention on scenes that aren't meant to be taken as seriously (ie. the cannibal scene) which makes a joke out of the antagonist. However, lighting also seems to become a flaw later on, as the premise of darkly lit rooms disappears halfway through the movie, and everything becomes bright. At that point, the tone of the movie falls off a cliff; those last moments are the most tense, but we can't see that through the lighting anymore.

The performances are all-around astounding. I’m sure if I understood Korean, they would be even better. These characters seem completely human on screen. This humanity is captured by a quirky, comical style of direction. It’s subtle, and not the type of comic structure that will make you laugh because it’s funny, but because it’s such a natural thing for a human to do that we don’t often see portrayed in movies. For example, there’s a scene where the protagonist is confronted by a gunman. Before ducking, he cocks his head slightly to the side, completely surprised. Real people don’t have a “I’m a badass, shit doesn’t scare me” mentality, no matter how hardened they are. When the unexpected occurs, we are surprised, even if reflexes do save our lives seconds later, and that surprise will be visible through our countenances.

I’ve explained the plot already: a revenge story with a slightly different plot structure. The goal isn’t to kill, it’s to torment.  As a member of the police force himself, the protagonist also has to avoid detection from the police, which goes smoothly for him, likely to make more space for the main narrative. By the close of the second act, the morality of the protagonists actions is brought into question, which is rarely done in these kinds of movies. They tend to justify grotesque vengeance with the stimulus that provoked it, but that viewpoint doesn’t hold true in modern society. Every wrongdoing, regardless of motivation, is still a wrongdoing, and consequences will inevitably occur, whether they be physical or psychological.

I Saw The Devil is a two-and-a-half hour movie that plays out in one-and-a-half. It’s a bloody romp that doesn’t find pleasure in overextended scenes of mindless violence and gore. It’s a smart thriller that brings into question the ideas of good and evil. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have been adequately rewarded with a conclusion that does the length of the movie justice. True justice.