Brutality Stretched Out to Sadean Extremes in I Saw the Devil

Choi Min-sik, in between killings in I Saw the Devil
Magnet Releasing
Choi Min-sik, in between killings in I Saw the Devil

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I Saw the Devil
Directed by Kim Jee-woon
Magnet Releasing
Opens March 4, IFC Center

The pan-genre über-hack of the new Korean zeitgeist, Kim Jee-woon has been deft in some arenas: 2003’s A Tale of Two Sisters suggests a nightmare endured inside a suffocating velvet pillowcase, while 2008’s breathless The Good, the Bad, the Weird pioneered the fourth-gear lo-mein Western with such brio, you could feel Quentin Tarantino’s zipper strain. I Saw the Devil doesn’t lack for ambition—at nearly two and a half relentless hours, Kim’s new film steals into the signature territory Park Chan-wook established, exhausted, and left for dead: the hyperbolic mega-revenge epic. Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik is Devil’s shitstorm on legs, a bull-goose serial killer with no psychopathology to speak of—hunted, tortured, and oddly released over and over again by pretty-boy fed Lee Byung-hyun, whose fiancée has been arbitrarily butchered. The I-have-become-what-I-beheld dynamic is on the front burner, and in typical K-wave fashion, the duel of wits and pain endurance stretches out to Sadean extremes. Never good with nuance, Kim is a beast with disarming imagery (like the severed head that turns face-up in a river current) but has few resonating ideas, leaving the domino-tumble of brutality to become its own tiresome spectacle.

 
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