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Film / I Saw the Devil

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"I will kill you when you are in the most pain. When you're in the most pain and shivering out of fear, then I will kill you. That is a real revenge. A real, complete revenge."

I Saw the Devil is a 2010 South Korean revenge action thriller film directed by Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, The Bad, The Weird, A Bittersweet Life) and starring Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik.

After his fiancée is horrifically and indiscriminately murdered, government agent Kim Soo-hyun (Byung-hun) vows to avenge the murder by any means necessary. He eventually finds the killer in Jang Kyung-chul (Min-sik), a psychopath to whom kidnapping, raping and murdering young women come as easy as breathing.

Considering how close to home his offense is, Soo-hyun decides to take matters into his own hands in regards to giving Kyung-chul what he deserves. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game in which both men vow to destroy the other's life, and while Kyung-chul isn't willing to give up the last laugh without a fight, Soo-hyun runs the risk of giving in more and more to his darkest desires...

This movie provides examples of the following:

  • Agony of the Feet: Both of Kyung-chul's feet. One has its Achilles tendon cut, another steps on a fishing hook.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Double subverted. When Soo-hyun finally gets Kyung-chul exactly where he wants him to execute his final act of revenge, Kyung-chul seemingly breaks down and begs for his life. However, he then drops the act and states that he cannot feel pain or fear — the exact things Soo-hyun wants him to feel the most — and so Soo-hyun's work is All for Nothing. However, once he leaves Kyung-chul holding up his own guillotine blade by a rope in his teeth that connects to a door, his family arrives and starts to open the same door, at which point he begins letting out very real, very terrified pleas for them to leave. It doesn't boot.
  • Anti-Hero: Soo-hyun, who doesn't seem to care that his plan for revenge also puts innocent bystanders in danger. At one point he lets Kyung-chul rape someone long enough just so he could disrupt his enjoyment that much further.
  • Asshole Victim: The two crooks in the taxi plan to rob and kill Kyung-chul, who figures it out and kills them both.
  • Ax-Crazy: Kyung-chul reveals himself to be a danger to just about everyone around him. Even after getting his hand mended by a doctor, he nearly decides to murder the doctor over some gentle scolding. The only reason he relents is because he turns his attention on the doctor's attractive nurse. All of this is part of what makes Soo-hyun's catch-and-release plan so reckless.
  • Big Bad: Kyung-chul is the psychopath whose being at large while committing murderous acts sets the story in motion.
  • Black Comedy:
    • While preparing to murder a woman he's given a ride, Kyung-chul misplaces his murder weapon. He rummages around behind his seat muttering to himself while his future victim watches him in confusion.
    • When Tae-joo tries to remove the screwdriver pinning his hand on the table, the handle promptly comes off with a humorous "pop!" He slams the table in frustration.
  • Book Ends: The film's main plot begins and ends with the discovery of a head. At the start it's Joo-yun's, as discovered by the police, severed by Kyung-chul, and at the end it's Kyung-chul's, as discovered by his own family, severed by a trap set up by Soo-hyun.
  • Bottomless Magazines: A mild case when Kyung-chul shoots at Soo-hyun three times with a double barrel shotgun before reloading.
  • Bowdlerise: The Korean version was effectively censored by the Korea Media Rating Board; several shots of violence and some scenes depicting cannibalism had to be removed before being released. The international version is uncut and true to the director's intentions, however.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: When Soo-hyun drops in on his first suspect, he's busy masturbating to porn in his room. He decides to alert the suspect of his presence by cutting his computer's power just as he's about to finish.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Joo-yun's ring. It falls in a nearby gutter as Kyung-chul dismembers her, and Soo-hyun digging in and finding it later is what makes him realize Kyung-chul has killed her.
  • Cowboy Cop: Deconstructed with Soo-hyun. Considering Kyung-chul has killed his greatest love, it makes sense that he'd have zero interest in waiting for the cops to get things done, and want to get hands-on. The problem comes in just how dirty he's willing to get his hands to see to his own personal sense of justice. In his decision to drag out his retribution, he allows more murders and rapes to happen, and come the end of the film, his superiors are furious with him, and his victory is too costly to enjoy anyway.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Justified; since Soo-hyun is a trained government operative, he wins every close-range fight he enters without much hassle.
  • Determinator: Soo-hyun, but not as much as Kyung-chul. To elaborate, Kyung-chul gets into a car accident (after murdering the two people inside the car with him) and breaks his arm. Later, he has the Achilles tendon in one of his feet cut. Not long after, his head is bashed in with a pipe. Through all of this, he is still somehow able to inflict brutal murder when in any normal situation, he could have been defeated by being shoved to the ground and kicked.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: How Soo-hyun sees Kyung-chul. The title, which explains it all, is considered an ironic coincidence in that his sadistic acts turn him into a Devil-like figure himself come the end.
  • Disposable Woman: Joo-yun, whose death kicks off the plot.
  • Downer Ending: Soo-hyun manages to see to the end of his retribution against Kyung-chul, resulting in his death, but by this point, it's clear he's lost everything. His career as a police officer is in jeopardy because of the sheer amount of damage he's caused in his pursuit of vengeance, his father-in-law ends up grievously injured, his sister-in-law ends up killed, and in having Kyung-chul decapitated right in front of his parents and son, Soo-hyun realizes that he has become just as monstrous as Kyung-chul had been. By the end of the movie, he's walking away from all the carnage he's caused, crying hysterically, completely alone.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Tae-joo the cannibal has a girlfriend, though their relationship isn't explored. It's not even clear if she's a cannibal as well, since she scowls at him when he's eating human flesh and is only seen eating rice herself.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As psychotically depraved as Kyung-chul is, he’s unnerved by Tae-joo’s acts of cannibalism. He may be a sadistic rapist and murderer, but he draws the line at eating people.
  • Evil vs. Evil: By the end of the film, Soo-hyun's desire for revenge has made him just as monstrous as Kyung-chul.
  • Far East Asian Terrorists: It’s implied that this is how Tae-joo and Kyung-chul know each other. Tae-joo mentions that the two of them were in a “militia” movement and wanted to cause chaos throughout the world. It’s certainly a reasonable explanation for how two very depraved people came to be friends.
  • Glasgow Grin: Soo-hyun gives this to one of the cannibals by ripping open his mouth with his bare hands. We only see it briefly.
    "Funny? Is that really funny? That really makes you smile? Alright, I'll make you smile for the rest of your life."
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Smoking is treated as villainous.
    • Squad Chief Jang smokes while in mourning for his daughter. Soo-hyun gently tells him he should stop.
    • Kyung-chul is constantly seen smoking.
    • In the end, Soo-hyun smokes a cigarette and uses it to burn Kyung-chul.
  • Gorn: The film opens with a brutal bludgeoning and dismemberment and doesn't really ease up on the gore from there.
  • Groin Attack: Soo-hyun ends up smashing his first suspect's groin repeatedly with a hammer.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Some of the film's most violent acts are depicted in close, excruciating detail (ex: Soo-hyun bludgeoning a man's genitals, Soo-hyun severing Kyung-chul's Achilles tendon).
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Essentially the core of the film, as it's explored in Soo-hyun's increasingly sadistic persistence in exacting revenge against Kyung-chul, as well as discussed by other cops commenting on his behavior.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: One of Kyung-chul's preferred murder types is decapitation via guillotine; he is ultimately offed in that fashion by that same blade, in a particularly twisted setup organized by Soo-hyun. He's left holding between his teeth a rope which connects to a door and then up to the blade. When his family arrives later, they inadvertently trigger his decapitation by opening that door and pulling the rope out of his teeth.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Kyung-chul often calls everyone "crazy" and/or "psycho."
  • Idiot Ball: The police have it bad. They have called in Kyung-chul before and know where he lives. So when Kyung-chul leaves all his evidence at the crime scene at the start of the movie, why didn't they get him then?
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Tae-joo is a cannibal, declaring that you'll never want to eat anything else after you taste human meat. He noisily scarfs down bite after bite during dinner with Kyung-chul.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: At the end, Soo-hyun breaks down crying after finally killing Kyung-chul.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Soo-hyun uses this on some suspects early on when he's looking for the killer.
  • Jerkass: Aside from the whole Serial Killer business, Kyung-chul treats every last person he comes across with violence, hostility and contempt — and that's when he doesn't end up killing them.
  • Jump Scare: The first and last times Kyung-chul attacks a woman, it's played out like this.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: Kyung-chul is ultimately murdered by Soo-hyun.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Soo-hyun's theme, used to full effect over the film's closing shot: him sobbing, alone in the middle of the street, having lost everything in his mission. The camera even pulls back at the very end to make him smaller and more isolated.
  • Mugging the Monster: The two crooks in the taxi plan to rob and kill Kyung-chul, not knowing he is a murderous psychopath. It ends about as well as you'd expect.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The most likely reasoning behind Soo-hyun's breakdown at the end of the film, in combination with his loss and all the lives he indirectly ended or changed forever.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Soo-hyun's constant catch-and-release torment of Kyung-chul results in the latter committing more murders and rapes, eventually finding out Soo-hyun's identity, tracking down Joo-yun's family, beating her father within a centimeter of his life, and killing his sister outright.
  • Nominal Hero: Soo-hyun is only interested in avenging his fiance's murder above all else.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: A scene only available in the Korean version of the film (the director cut it out of the international version for pacing reasons) has Kyung-chul raping his cannibal friend's wife only her for to enjoy it after a while.
  • Overt Operative: Soo-hyun.
  • Parental Abandonment: Kyung-chul has a son whom he left with his parents.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Soo-hyun's vow. He ultimately makes good on it, and he couldn't be less happy about it.
    "I'll promise this. I'll give him pain that's 1,000 times... no, 10,000 times more painful."
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Soo-hyun begins the film as a sympathetic antihero motivated by getting vengeance on a brutal murderer. He makes more and more moral concessions to his vengeance, until, by the end, he's completely sacrificed his humanity.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Soo-hyun may have gotten his revenge by murdering Kyung-chul, but he ends up causing huge amounts of damage, including his father-in-law being grievously injured and his sister-in-law being killed. Never mind the fact that he also becomes just as monstrous as Kyung-chul was in his pursuit for vengeance.
  • Rasputinian Death: Kyung-chul survives a lot of serious injuries at the hands of Soo-hyun before his guillotine finally does him in — namely being beaten unconscious, having his wrist broken, losing several fistfights and cracking a couple bones in the process, taking a fire extinguisher multiple times to the face, getting his Achilles tendon severed, getting his head split open with a rod, taking a hot cigarette to the face, and being impaled through the cheeks.
  • Revenge: Soo-hyun and his would-be father-in-law are motivated by vengeance against the murder of Joo-yun.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Soo-hyun strives for revenge over all other factors, even after being begged to stop by his fiance's family and his boss, and even though it puts a number of other people in grave peril.
  • Rule of Drama: There's no given reason why Kyung-chul's sedatives wear off nearly a day earlier than expected, just in time to make a critical discovery (Soo-hyun's planted a tracker in him). It happens simply to drive the next plot point.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Joo-yun, whose death at the hands of Kyung-chul kicks off the plot.
  • Saying Too Much: While talking with Soo-hyun, Squad Chief Jang makes the fatal error of bringing up the Tracking Device Soo-hyun planted in a nearby Kyung-chul and the only way to get rid of it just as his sedative wears off.
  • Serial Killer: Kyung-chul has killed around a dozen women, as evidenced by the trophies in his lair, and always after raping them, as pointed out by Tae-joo.
  • Serial-Killer Killer: Soo-hyun.
  • Shout-Out: Kyung-chul ends up in a situation straight from Bloodsucking Freaks: in a guillotine, holding the blade up with his teeth.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Soo-hyun breaks a fair share of his opponent's bones (Kyung-chul and Tae-joo) during his hand-to-hand fights.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Kyung-chul. Even though he's a sleazy serial killer whose only known "friend" is a psychotic cannibal, he thinks very highly of himself and doesn't change his tune until the moment before he is brutally killed.
  • Soft Glass: Averted. Soo-hyun knows that this is not true. The only time he jumps through a window, he wears gloves and a rather thick hoodie, and also grabs a sheet of cloth for extra protection.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Tae-joo prefers the sound of "Habanera" when dismembering his victims.
  • Stupid Crooks: The killers in the film are hardly masterminds.
    • Kyung-chul misplaces objects a few times, coming across as fairly bumbling on occasion.
    • Tae-joo knows that a merciless Serial-Killer Killer is hunting his house guest, but takes no precautions. When his CD player spontaneously shuts off, he doesn't display any awareness that there might be someone skulking about. He even fumbles with the controls trying to turn it back on.
  • Tears of Remorse: Soo-hyun sheds these at the end. While probably not regretting killing Kyung-chul, he probably regrets the things he did to get Kyung to where he wanted him and that he's become just as bad as he is. But by the time he realizes that it is too little, too late.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A woman standing at a deserted bus stop at night lets herself get convinced to accept a ride from a very insistent stranger in a van. She does hesitate quite formidably, but ultimately caves. She is killed for it. Justified, however, because he convinces her that the bus has stopped running for the night and that she'll be stranded otherwise.
  • Tracking Device: Early in the film, Soo-hyun gets a transmitter from his agency that tracks GPS location and acts as a microphone. He shoves it down Kyung-chul's throat and uses it to listen to his conversations and find him when he's committing heinous acts; however, he eventually finds out about it and eats laxatives to rid himself of it.
    • A more minor example is the transmitter he plants on the school van Kyung-chul drives for similar purposes.
  • Tranquil Fury: Soo-hyun maintains this state throughout the movie.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Soo-hyun eventually discovers what a bad idea it is to keep a murderous psychopath alive to toy with.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Near the end of the movie, Soo-hyun succeeds in getting Kyung-chul to beg for his life like so many of his own victims. Subverted in that it's all an act on Kyung-chul's part.
    • Then played straight when Soo-hyun leaves and Kyung-chul's parents and son come to visit him. Kyung-chul really starts to panic as they're about to see him in the state Soo-hyun left him in, holding a rope with his teeth that, if released, will release a guillotine's blade hanging just above him.
  • Villains Out Shopping: An early sequence has Kyung-chul engaged in mundane activities such as preening his hair and playing acoustic guitar.
  • Wicked Cultured: The cannibal Tae-joo enjoys listening to classical music while preparing his "meals."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the schoolgirl and the kidnapped victim in the cannibal's house? We see them scurry away as Soo-hyun battles Kyung-chul, but there's no follow-up. One can presume that the police took care of the latter.