Fright Fest Review #30: I Saw the Devil (2010)

He has a personal stake in the matter.
He has a personal stake in the matter.

Subgenre:  Foreign / Serial Killer

Summary:  After his fiancé is brutally murdered, a secret agent goes to disturbing lengths to exact revenge on the killer.

Review:  This review reveals plot developments that, despite occurring somewhat early in the movie, could be construed as spoilers.  Consider this a warning: if you want to go in blind, skip to the verdict.

I Saw the Devil starts off with the terrifyingly realistic murder of an innocent woman at the hands of a madman.  When news of this tragedy reaches her government agent fiancé Soo-hyun, he decides to take justice into his own hands.  After he tracks the killer down, he brutalizes him then lets him go, setting off a sadistic game of catch-and-release.

In its first act, the morality of I Saw the Devil’s characters is as black-and-white as it gets.  On one side is the cruel, murderous Kyung-chul, and on the other is the handsome, justice-driven Soo-hyun.  But as Soo-hyun’s revenge plot grows increasingly elaborate and violent, his own morality begins to deteriorate.  I Saw the Devil questions where justice ends and revenge begins, and asks us just how far we’re willing to follow its hero down his dark, destructive path.

Despite its length, I Saw the Devil is never less than riveting, and its final half-hour will have you glued to the screen.  Its scale is at once grand and intimate, and the battle between its two uncompromising adversaries is a meeting of unstoppable force and immovable object.  Both leads deliver impressive performances, but Choi Min-sik’s inhuman killer is the standout.

The Verdict:  Dark, compelling, and intelligent, I Saw the Devil earns its place among Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs as one of the great horror-thrillers.  I give it eight-and-a-half Korean killers out of ten.

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