This section will focus on older films, these might be classics, cult faves or notable DVD releases. This week the spotlight is on….
I SAW THE DEVIL – 29/4/2012
Director Jee-Woon Kim has had a spotty career to date. His breakout, A Tale Of Two Sisters, was a muted, cruel and often confusing tale. It was a case of style over substance, a film that was to ignite the messages boards rather than the average film goers brain. His follow up however, A Bittersweet Life, was thrilling yarn, taking its ques from the coveted, over tasted American styled ‘old school’ thriller. The film concerns an ‘enforcer’ who is told to do the one job he wont do, obviously this makes his ruthless boss very unhappy. These types of thrillers are successful when setting up their simplistic premise early and then the fun is had watching our main character stumble over the finishing line. It takes great care to craft something of merit from such pillaged foundations. With ‘I Saw The Devil’ there is no such care taken, it sees the director plunge head first into the murky and depraved world of torture porn.
As an audience we should be asking ourselves what the point of given scene or character action is no matter how depraved or violent, this is how we learn to love the characters and the story. We have to understand motivations and driving forces and we have to buy into them as modes of story progression. The violence in I Saw The Devil is gratuitous and without merit. It isn’t movie commenting on cinema violence nor is it a movie about real violence, it is just sadistic and depraved. Even the shower shallow Saw, which arguably ushered in this new bloody fad to the masses, has a (slightly) veiled point; that some people deserve to die because they don’t know how to live. In one scene in I Saw The Devil, our ‘hero’ is told that ‘revenge is for the American movies’ it would seem then the notion has been processed for all its hyper real absurdity but still the film makers are intent to make us watch the senseless breaking of limbs and bludgeoning. Just while we are on the point of the bludgeoning (of which there are many), why are these characters still alive after 30 blows to the head with a metal pipe? The answer seems to be so we can have a nice little coincidental expository scene or indeed so the person can be tortured further for our (dis)pleasure.
Firstly, the idea of redemption through revenge is one that doesn’t sit with me at all. That’s not to say i cant have fun watching it, films like Black Rain set up the ensuing redemptive violence with care making the idea of Michael Douglas’s impending bloody revenge more appealing. We like the relationship he has with Andy Garcia so when he is brutally murdered we need to see justice, no matter how muddied or bloody that may be. Or take Oldboy for example, with Oldboy, the fun of the revenge is in the complexity of the web spun in its honour. We are toyed with throughout the movie and we are completely invested in Dae-su Oh and his quest. Also, we assume Dae-su viewpoint completely making the films ending a more shocking and personal affair. We then reconsider certain scenes throughout the movie, including a (seemingly) misplaced sex scene. We get nothing here except for the death of his wife (who just happens to be pregnant) and this is surely enough right? Well, no its not. I need to care about the characters first, so i therefore feel for them, if anything further happens to them whether it be directly or indirectly. But that’s what the film deals in, actions. Our hero never verbalises his anger, he just acts with bloody vengeance this leads to a disconnect from him. This fact coupled with the over use of the films killer (Min-Sik Choi) gives the film an uneasy weight toward the dealings of the killer, the film revels in his depravity. Its almost like watching one of the vacuous major horror franchises in which the killer is the main star and the audience come to watch him work. By the end of the movie, i didn’t care whether the killer was punished or not, rightly or wrongly. There was nothing holding the movie together, people cried but there is no emotion, this movie is completely soulless. A good juxtaposition to this is The Chaser. The Chaser walks similar lines, we have a depraved serial killer and the man who stop at nothing to exact bloody revenge. The difference here being that the incentive for the hero is not just to kill or maim the bad guy, which is completely uninteresting, but he learns that there are more important things in the world other than his nihilism. Neither men here have anything real to live for, they are both as bad as each other. Watching as Byung-Hun Lee bludgeons suspected serial killers is not fun, its just wrong.
If you want morally murky then Joe Carnahan’ s excellent Narc is a fantastic example of good person doing terrible things, under extreme circumstances. In that film, Ray Liotta goes to illegal lengths to gain a conviction and tough justice on the criminal underworld after his partner dies. We really get a sense of character in the film, and you really get a feel for Liotta’s choices, however wrong they might be. So what we end up watching isn’t nasty or irrelevant, its heartbreaking.
I honestly couldn’t help but be appalled by this movie. I didn’t want to be, i don’t want to be the killjoy. I saw nothing in this movie that justified its 2hrs 20minute runtime and I’m a person that likes to try and take positives out of negatives. I think that the vast majority that will see this movie will be looking for the torture porn elements or just because they heard how ‘bad’ it is and for that, they will enjoy it. Those who, like me, were looking for something with abit more meat (forgive the pun), or something a little more in the vein of A Bittersweet Life, Oldboy or The Chaser, i would strongly recommend staying away from this tripe.