I SPOILED THE FILM
There've been some really terrific movies from South Korea in the last few years - The Chaser, Bedevilled, The Good The Bad The Weird, Oldboy, Thirst, The Host. And you can add this scorching serial killer thriller to the list: a brutal, bloody, morally troubling and thoroughly satisfying examination of Nietzsche's "he who fights monsters should take care not to become a monster", in which the savage violence and the extreme lengths to which a man can go - or can be driven - may be uncomfortable and shocking but never gratuitous and wilfully repulsive for the sake of it.
I Saw The Devil starts with Kyung-Chul, an average-looking, unremarkable, middle-aged guy apparently offering to help a young woman with a flat tyre. But he is actually a vicious and sadistic killer who inflicts bloody violence upon her before finally murdering her. Devastated, her fiance, secret service agent Soo-Hyun resolves to find the man and exact more than mere justice or vengeance, to seek to put him through the suffering of his victims and their families. Locating the man before the police can find him, Soo-Hyun implants a homing device in Kyung-Chul's body to keep track of his movements - catching the man, viciously torturing him, but letting him go and then tracking him down again - until the killer discovers the device and sets in motion a cat-and-mouse game that cannot end well for either of them.
Is it going to get through the BBFC intact? Certainly it's more visceral and wince-inducing than, say, the last few years' worth of slasher or torture films which haven't really troubled the censor's knife, but that's at least partly down to the high emotions involved in I Saw The Devil rather than the cartoonish kill shots in the new Halloween films or the Saw saga, which never feel plausible despite the scrime-scene photograph levels of detail. Here we see and feel enough of the pain that drives Soo-Hyun's quest for retribution. But does he go too far in his crusade - does he become a monster himself? Meanwhile Kyung-Chul's murderous impulses go unexplored - like the best (or worst) of screen maniacs we are given little explanation as to why he kills, what drives him. Once the bogeyman is explained, once he's seen in cold light, he's weakened and diminshed.
Despite running more than two hours, I Saw The Devil doesn't drag and while it did feel long, it didn't feel too long. Absorbing, unsettling and powerful, it's a terrific film delivering not just on the bloody surface but the murkier moral depths as well. If you can take the grue, there's plenty more to chew on as well. Superb.