I Saw The Devil (Blu-Ray Review)

There are a lot of revenge films that currently exist out there.  While I am always up for a sweet revenge tale, it does excite me much more when it is a film coming out of South Korea.  Over the course of the past decade, South Korea has continued to prove to me that some of the best, stylish, and most ambitious films are coming out of that area.  Now I have gotten a chance to see one of the latest treats from South Korea, I Saw the Devil, which is a wonderfully bloody, but stylized, revenge film.  This is a film that warps the idea of a cat-and-mouse thriller and benefits heavily based on the way this film handles familiar aspects of this sub-genre. The film presents a few different positions on the condition of psychopaths and is certainly violent, but beautifully made in a very bleak sort of way.


Soo-hyeon:  Your nightmare’s only getting worse.

The film begins with a women stranded in her car, on the side of the road, during one snowy night.  Having a flat tire soon becomes the least of her worries, as a mysterious van pulls up; almost immediately implying nefarious deeds are afoot.  The driver is a middle-aged man, Kyung-chul (Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik), who offers the woman a ride.  The woman wisely turns down the offer, but still ends up kidnapped and brutally murdered.  Following the grisly find of a severed ear, police arrive at a lake in an effort to locate the victim.  After confirming that the scattered parts of the victim are in fact the kidnapped woman, we learn more of her fiancée.  This character is Soo-hyeon (The Good, The Bad, and The Weird’s Lee Byung-hun), who is a secret agent and becomes determined to track down the sick murderer responsible.

While the average sort of revenge thriller would focus on the hunt that Soo-hyeon embarks on to catch this character, this film gets that out of the way fairly quickly.  Soo-hyeon quickly learns the identity of the murderer in question (following a beating given to other potential suspects) and begins to enact his revenge.  Kyung-chul, who is a psychopathic murderer, is confronted by Soo-hyeon and physically bested by him; however, Kyung-chul awakens to find himself stranded in a new location, but medically treated well enough to continue on his way.  Kyung-chul continues to be himself (meaning that he only wishes to harm others), however, every time he comes close to a murder, Soo-hyeon steps in to stop him, denying Kyung-chul from the satisfaction he hopes to achieve from killing.  And so it goes from there, along with many other twisted turns along the way.  The two find themselves as opposites, but their view on morality may be more closely entwined than one of them would like.

My interest in seeing this film came from two main factors.  Choi Min-sik’s presence immediately had me interested, especially since he is once again dabbling in some pretty dark territory, playing this psychopathic beast of a man.  Following Oldboy, I am ready to follow Choi Min-sik anywhere he wants to go with his various acting choices.  The other reason was director Kim Ji-woon, who previously directed A Tale of Two Sisters and The Good, The Bad, and The Weird.  Kim Ji-woon had already proved to me that he has plenty of stylish flare behind the lens and seeing his take on a revenge film had me very excited.  Fortunately, both of these factors managed to work very much in favor of the film, as Choi Min-sik delivered another memorable performance and the direction features a number of slickly shot sequences and maintains a visceral level of excitement, when the film truly is in its zone.

There is a strong level of violence, which has become enough of an issue to spark the debate about whether this film can be described as exploitative or even “torture porn”, akin to films such as the Saw sequels (I say sequels, because the original does not relish in its gore like the others) or Hostel.  For me, I can easily feel for those who make that argument, as the film is incredibly violent, but I do not feel it quite crosses that line of too much.  Everything regarding the carnage that is presented in this film does serve a purpose of sorts, and while it lingers on the line of gratuity on occasion, I do not feel the film revels in the violence that is depicted.  The only real time when the violence seems like it could have been too much for me was fortunately during the film’s most bravura sequence, as it takes place inside of a moving taxi.  So as far as that argument goes, I would praise this film’s stylistic qualities over what can be considered too much as far as the violence goes.  It is certainly not an easy film to watch at times, but I do not find what it presents to be manipulative in a poor taste sort of way either.

If the film does falter it is in Kim Ji-woon’s choice to make this an epic revenge thriller of sorts.  The 144 minute runtime does feel too long for a tale of revenge involving mainly just two characters.  His previous and also epically scaled western film, ‘Weird’, was also overblown a bit, but was at least almost nonstop action.  In ‘Devil’, the way tension and suspense are balanced with action does not quite maintain a proper balance throughout (even during a sequence where we take a side trip to the home of a cannibal).  A bigger issue is how, despite the length, the film does little to flesh out these main characters more.  It helps that both lead actors are fantastic and make very interesting choices for their portrayals, but in terms of what is there for them to begin with, only so much can be expanded upon.

Regardless, what this movie has in spades is a solid amount of tension, which is countered with some skillfully handled action sequences of sorts.  This is not an action film, but it does have a lot of fun with the way these two men encounter each other and physically torment and beat each other down.  I Saw the Devil does not have much in the way of subtlety; on the contrary, it does portray a fairly nasty underworld that is filled with a lot of brutal people.  Of the few characters we meet in this film, only a very small portion of them are decent individuals.  This is not a film that exists in any sort of true world.  It exists in one that is designed to be seen as a place with almost no hope, despite its twisted and darkly comedic sense of justice, thanks to the few who attempt to do what they view as right.  I Saw the Devil is bleak, yes, but it is also a skillfully handled exercise in bloody revenge filmmaking.

Kyung-chul: You’ve already lost.


For such a brutal film, it certainly does look great on Blu-ray.  The disc boasts a terrific 1080p transfer, which has all of the various colors, textures, and atmospheric tones of the film pop on screen.  Aside from the various instances of blood and violence filling up the frame, which does look quite good, I have always thought that snow looks particularly great on Blu-ray.  Considering that this film has lots of snow to show off, it is a great way to measure how solid the video quality on this disc is.  It is actually interesting to note that this film is incredibly dark and no holds bar in terms of its levels of violence, but it is also a very colorful film.  This makes it very fortunate that the disc is quite impressive when it comes to its video quality.  The black levels are also well handled, with a great sense of balance seeming very apparent.  Glad to see enough care put into a film such as this.


Similarly, the audio track for I Saw the Devil is wonderfully well handled, allowing me to hear both dialogue and screams with an appropriate amount of clarity.  Yes, as this film is a thriller, it is necessary to have some shocking music cues occur along the way, mixed with plenty of slices and dices when it comes to the sound effects of various weapons being used throughout.  The Blu-ray contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.  I passionately dislike dubbed tracks, but along with the original Korean track, the disc does contain an English track, along with various subtitle options as well.  Regardless, this film has a wonderful audio track, which has been appropriately mixed to provide a near perfect listening experience in order to further justify the film’s intensity.

Special Features: 

Not a whole lot to offer in this department and the fact that both bonus features are presented in SD does not help at all, but there is a nice amount of information to glean from all of this.  It should be noted that the Blu-ray is labeled unrated, which, after some further digging, I found to be a cut of the film that is both a bit more violent and slightly shorter.  It is apparently the director’s cut of the film, so you are getting the preferred version.  Extra features include:

Deleted Scenes. About 25 minutes of deleted scenes from the film.  I can see why most of these were cut out, as it is basically stuff that hit the cutting room floor in favor of a tighter picture, as the movie already clocks in at over two hours and twenty minutes.  Still, there is some interesting stuff here.

Raw and Rough: Behind the Scenes of I Saw the Devil. Clocking in at just under thirty minutes, this is a pretty solid behind the scenes look at the making of the film, which goes over a lot of the choreography seen in the film and provides a look at a number of the film’s most memorable sequences.  It also features many interviews with the cast and crew as well.

Trailers. Generally not much to say here, but the disc actually does have trailers for a lot of other solid films from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

Final Thoughts: 

I Saw the Devil is definitely a brutal depiction of what it is to be and become a sociopath.  It is also incredibly stylish, well crafted and acted, and full of memorable (mostly bloody) moments.  The film may not be for everyone, but I would easily recommend it to someone seeking a quality revenge film, as this flick is much better than most generic examples that come around only so often.  It does help that the Blu-ray presentation is pretty fantastic, with video and audio quality that properly reflect the most appropriate way to see this film.  It is bleak, yet vibrant in the way it has been shot and how it sounds.  Violent, but not depraved, check out this film.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

3 Responses to “I Saw The Devil (Blu-Ray Review)”

  1. Gerard Iribe

    This is a great film!

  2. Jiminy Critic

    I enjoyed (?) this movie very much. Not your average horror/slasher/killer type movie. Not so much buckets of blood as a feeling of fear evoked by this one. Worth a look definitely. Revenge won’t look the same to you after this one.

  3. Brian White

    I’m going to have to see this one!