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I Saw The Devil


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#21 opus

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 12:09 PM

UNFORGIVEN is a good example, as it inverts the revenge ethic of so many westerns -- but still, that film (and even more so Park's Vengeance trilogy) play on the audiences appetite for vengeance all the way through.

I think that's a fair comment about UNFORGIVEN. I don't think that's very true of Park's Vengeance Trilogy, however, at least far as OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE are concerned (I've only seen SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE once, and a long time ago, so I can't speak to that one effectively). There is no satisfaction offered in either of them. Just despair, frustration, and guilt.

Agreed. To be sure, Oldboy offers some exhilarating scenes (e.g., the hallway fight sequence) and some dark humor, but the end is just bleak, bleak, bleak... especially when you think through its implications. Even Sympathy For Lady Vengeance -- which I consider the weakest film of the trilogy -- continues that theme.

Edited by opus, 06 June 2011 - 12:10 PM.


#22 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 01:03 PM


UNFORGIVEN is a good example, as it inverts the revenge ethic of so many westerns -- but still, that film (and even more so Park's Vengeance trilogy) play on the audiences appetite for vengeance all the way through.

I think that's a fair comment about UNFORGIVEN. I don't think that's very true of Park's Vengeance Trilogy, however, at least far as OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE are concerned (I've only seen SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE once, and a long time ago, so I can't speak to that one effectively). There is no satisfaction offered in either of them. Just despair, frustration, and guilt.

Agreed. To be sure, Oldboy offers some exhilarating scenes (e.g., the hallway fight sequence) and some dark humor, but the end is just bleak, bleak, bleak... especially when you think through its implications. Even Sympathy For Lady Vengeance -- which I consider the weakest film of the trilogy -- continues that theme.


Would you two consider the Vengeance trilogy to be morally anti-vengeance? I'm not sure I would. Interestingly enough, while Unforgiven plays heavily on audience appetite for vengeance, there's no question that it is ultimately an anti-vengeance film. Is the same true of the trilogy? I don't think so, but I'm really not sure.

#23 Ryan H.

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 01:04 PM

Would you two consider the Vengeance trilogy to be morally anti-vengeance?

Yes. A thousand times yes. I'm baffled that anyone could think otherwise.

Edited by Ryan H., 06 June 2011 - 01:06 PM.


#24 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 03:04 PM

Scott Derrickson wrote:
: This is the only one I know of that creates a tremendous desire in the viewer to see vengeance enacted, then continually frustrates that by seeing other people killed as a result of the vengeance sought, thereby depleting the feeling that the quest for vengeance should continue.

Heh. Just this morning, I was quoting to someone the line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Kirk yells, "You've managed to KILL just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep MISSING the TARGET!"

Of course, Khan was the "villain", in genre terms, and not the character with whom the audience was encouraged to identify. But still. :)

#25 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 04:40 PM

Would you two consider the Vengeance trilogy to be morally anti-vengeance?

Yes. A thousand times yes. I'm baffled that anyone could think otherwise.


Don't be baffled - I don't think otherwise. I don't remember the trilogy well enough to have an opinion about this issue, which is why I asked for your opinion. I'm pretty sure that when I saw them, there was drinking involved, hence the somewhat foggy memory. :)

#26 Persona

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 10:24 PM

For the record, here are the links to Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

The trilogy takes a trajectory from people who were wrong that are wronged seeking revenge, to a man who is unaware of his wrong -- who is WRONGED (capitals indeed) and seeks personal revenge, and in the final film it goes from the personal to the communal as we see what it is like when an entire group of people, an alliance of hurting people, form a bond of vengeance together. In doing so, they become as corrupt as anything they've already been through.

And yes, in every instance in those films, vengeance, no matter the reason, brings more sorrow.

In comparing these films to I Saw The Devil, it does give me more of an appreciation for I Saw The Devil. And I was never a fan of the Vengeance trilogy until I took a second look. Perhaps in the future I'll give this one another try.

#27 Attica

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 10:43 PM

For the record, here are the links to Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

The trilogy takes a trajectory from people who were wrong that are wronged seeking revenge, to a man who is unaware of his wrong -- who is WRONGED (capitals indeed) and seeks personal revenge, and in the final film it goes from the personal to the communal as we see what it is like when an entire group of people, an alliance of hurting people, form a bond of vengeance together. In doing so, they become as corrupt as anything they've already been through.

And yes, in every instance in those films, vengeance, no matter the reason, brings more sorrow.

In comparing these films to I Saw The Devil, it does give me more of an appreciation for I Saw The Devil. And I was never a fan of the Vengeance trilogy until I took a second look. Perhaps in the future I'll give this one another try.





I would be very interested in seeing a film explore the trajectory that a person or people group might take from the more admirable cause of justice, into vengeance, which I expect is, in some way, justice that has been
corrupted. For me that would be a very interesting look into the human condition.

Edited by Attica, 06 June 2011 - 10:43 PM.


#28 Persona

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Posted 06 June 2011 - 10:46 PM


For the record, here are the links to Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

The trilogy takes a trajectory from people who were wrong that are wronged seeking revenge, to a man who is unaware of his wrong -- who is WRONGED (capitals indeed) and seeks personal revenge, and in the final film it goes from the personal to the communal as we see what it is like when an entire group of people, an alliance of hurting people, form a bond of vengeance together. In doing so, they become as corrupt as anything they've already been through.

And yes, in every instance in those films, vengeance, no matter the reason, brings more sorrow.

In comparing these films to I Saw The Devil, it does give me more of an appreciation for I Saw The Devil. And I was never a fan of the Vengeance trilogy until I took a second look. Perhaps in the future I'll give this one another try.





I would be very interested in seeing a film explore the trajectory that a person or people group might take from the more admirable cause of justice, into vengeance, which I expect is, in some way, justice that has been
corrupted. For me that would be a very interesting look into the human condition.

What you are describing would be the third film in the trilogy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, which can be watched alone. The films are only related in theme.

But, as Scott warned at the top of this thread, it is an awfully violent film.

#29 Attica

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 12:14 AM



For the record, here are the links to Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, OldBoy, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

The trilogy takes a trajectory from people who were wrong that are wronged seeking revenge, to a man who is unaware of his wrong -- who is WRONGED (capitals indeed) and seeks personal revenge, and in the final film it goes from the personal to the communal as we see what it is like when an entire group of people, an alliance of hurting people, form a bond of vengeance together. In doing so, they become as corrupt as anything they've already been through.

And yes, in every instance in those films, vengeance, no matter the reason, brings more sorrow.

In comparing these films to I Saw The Devil, it does give me more of an appreciation for I Saw The Devil. And I was never a fan of the Vengeance trilogy until I took a second look. Perhaps in the future I'll give this one another try.





I would be very interested in seeing a film explore the trajectory that a person or people group might take from the more admirable cause of justice, into vengeance, which I expect is, in some way, justice that has been
corrupted. For me that would be a very interesting look into the human condition.

What you are describing would be the third film in the trilogy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, which can be watched alone. The films are only related in theme.

But, as Scott warned at the top of this thread, it is an awfully violent film.



I'm usually fine with violence although I have had problems with films such as Mel Gibson's Apocalypto. Even with that film I didn't find that any of the individual scenes were to violent for me, as much
as the fact that there was non-stop violence throughout the whole film. For me it was relentlessly violent.

With this in mind where would Sympathy For Lady Vengeance stand? Maybe I'll look into renting it.

#30 Benchwarmer

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 01:43 AM


That has me thinking: What must a movie do to fall into the Revenge Film category?


It must have a central narrative that involves a character seeking revenge (which is usually killing the person or people who deserve extreme justice).


Does True Grit fall into the revenge film category then?

#31 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 02:01 AM



That has me thinking: What must a movie do to fall into the Revenge Film category?


It must have a central narrative that involves a character seeking revenge (which is usually killing the person or people who deserve extreme justice).


Does True Grit fall into the revenge film category then?


I would thinks so, yeah.

#32 Benchwarmer

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 06:10 AM

I would thinks so, yeah.


I think True Grit ought to be listed alongside this one as well then. BTW, all of your comments on this thread have made me really look forward to this film getting an Australian release! :)

#33 Ryan H.

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 06:10 AM

What you are describing would be the third film in the trilogy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, which can be watched alone. The films are only related in theme.

But, as Scott warned at the top of this thread, it is an awfully violent film.

SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE is the least violent/brutal film of the trilogy. If someone wanted to test the waters of the Vengeance Trilogy, it would probably be the right film to use as a starting point.

#34 Persona

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 07:32 AM

What you are describing would be the third film in the trilogy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance, which can be watched alone. The films are only related in theme.

But, as Scott warned at the top of this thread, it is an awfully violent film.

SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE is the least violent/brutal film of the trilogy. If someone wanted to test the waters of the Vengeance Trilogy, it would probably be the right film to use as a starting point.

Is that right? My memory paints the final film as the most violent in the trilogy. Doesn't that

Spoiler

Edited by Persona, 07 June 2011 - 07:32 AM.


#35 Ryan H.

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 11:58 AM

Is that right? My memory paints the final film as the most violent in the trilogy. Doesn't that

Spoiler

It does go on and on, but the vast majority of the violence is implied, not shown. I remember this clearly, because when I was watching it, I kept waiting for something to make me shudder or cringe, and it never came; Park keeps cutting away before we would see anything. The focus is not on the victim and what he suffers, but on those those exacting the revenge, and their attitude towards the act before and after they commit it.

Edited by Ryan H., 07 June 2011 - 12:04 PM.


#36 Thom Wade

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Posted 11 June 2011 - 11:34 PM

Netflix has I saw the Devil available for streaming now.

#37 M. Leary

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 09:03 AM

I can't think of another revenge film that better portrays the dangers, messiness, and overall mayhem that accompanies true revenge; in that respect, it is a very different film than any American revenge film ever made.


I have recently binged on Korean revenge flicks and this week watched I Saw the Devil, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Chaser, The Man From Nowhere. I have also rewatched Oldboy, Samaritan Girl, and A Bittersweet Life. I still need to catch Bedevilled and rewatch Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. I think that pretty much covers the recent Korean revenge canon. A few first thoughts are:

1. Korean films top out my festival ticket lists for a reason. The consistent aesthetic in Korean crime and psych drama is impressive. Much could be said about the the Korean film industry as a collective auteurism, but I will just leave it at that for now.

2. Park is firmly on my top five list of directors. Few currently working directors are able to handle the range of themes and genres he does within such a consistently gripping mode of composition. The scripting of Mr. Vengeance, with the way it weaves together various streams of revenge as a series of logical emotional progressions is stunning. Way better than Oldboy in this respect.


How does it compare to, say, OLDBOY?

Yeah. As far as I'm concerned, OLDBOY is the gold standard when it comes to Korean revenge flicks. I agree. In fact, I think Oldboy is the gold standard for Korean cinema period.


I may have said this prior to my recent binge. But there are many parts of I Saw the Devil, The Man From Nowhere, or Chaser that achieve the same level of craft. That recent conversation about "Chaos Cinema" as a rejection a classical mode of cinema is flawed given that one can quickly turn to Korea for multiple examples of action cinema occuring within very classical (whatever that means...) forms. I am thinking specifically of many scenes of the sloppy, inarticulate, gasping, and exhausting reality of hand to hand combat. The entirety of I Saw the Devil, the end Man From Nowhere, and Chaser are good examples. As much as I love Park (see above), the action sequences in Oldboy actually tend away from the general trend in Korean revenge cinema toward a more stylized affect. If you watch Oldboy after many of the films listed above, this more stylized tone seems to represent a deviation from the traditional Korean revenge motif, which by actual camera placement and editing allows us to perceive the action as a form of naturalism. It isn't adorned or complicated by additional cinema tricks. A great example is the final murder in Chaser, during which the viewer fully expects droplets of blood to splatter on the camera lens. But it doesn't, because this is Korean revenge cinema, and that is not what the genre is after.

I am just trying to say that while Oldboy is formally spectacular, I don't think it achieves the naturalism other films in the genre set out to accomplish. Which is okay, as I don't think that is what Park is after here. But as a result, I can't think of it as a revenge gold standard. And as far as a Korean gold standard, I would probably look somewhere else. Maybe more toward other Park films or Kim.

UNFORGIVEN is a good example, as it inverts the revenge ethic of so many westerns -- but still, that film (and even more so Park's Vengeance trilogy) play on the audiences appetite for vengeance all the way through.

I think that's a fair comment about UNFORGIVEN. I don't think that's very true of Park's Vengeance Trilogy, however, at least far as OLDBOY and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE are concerned (I've only seen SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE once, and a long time ago, so I can't speak to that one effectively). There is no satisfaction offered in either of them. Just despair, frustration, and guilt.


That may be true for Oldboy and a few others, but I noticed something during this last trek through the genre. There are two fairly typical patterns at play: a little girl being saved or saved and harmed as a result and some reference to Catholic imagery. Here is a little list (some are spoilers, so I will keep it general):

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (little girl/no direct Catholic imagery I can recall)
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (young woman avenges self/loads of Catholic imagery)
Samaritan Girl (father avenges daughter/loads of Catholic imagery both thematic and direct)
Oldboy (avenge the girl motif subverted, horribly...)
Chaser (attempt to save girl/concludes in Catholic church)
Man From Nowhere (little girl/no direct Catholic imagery)
I Saw the Devil (girl avenged/title establishes Catholic subtext)

So it is true that the overall feeling this genre imparts to us is one of despair and even futility. The revenge in each case accomplishes nothing save the death of someone who would surely continue to kill and torture others. In some cases a young girl or young adult woman is saved or spared some sort of agony, but this is not always the case. Generally, Ryan is right. These films offer no emotional or narrative satisfaction. They tend to subvert closure by denying us a sense of justice or peace because, as the genre suggests, violence and revenge cannot accomplish closure no matter the motivation.

But, I think words like "futility" are incorrect descriptions of this cinema. I am out of my depth here because I don't know much about Korean culture, yet the above noted consistencies are striking. In each of these films a particular young or young adult female is posed structurally as the motivation or first cause for the entire narrative structure. This single girl/female figure serves as an image of innocence (either lost or about to be lost) and the violence swirling around their presence in the film is posed as an attempt to preserve, at any cost, the idea that the nihilism of psychopathic violence isn't a correct interpretation of the world. The tragedy of revenge/vengeance is that while it is an attempt to preserve the integrity of innocence, it requires someone becoming the opposite.

In addition, I was stunned by how much Catholic imagery exists throughout. I expect this more in Park, who left the Catholic church. But it just keeps popping up in all of these films. I am not sure why this is, and wish I knew more about the history of Catholicism in Korea. But I do think that this imagery directly infuses the revenge motif with a Western good/evil polarity that isn't necessarily present in traditional Korean culture and religion. The Catholic imagery rescues these films from the idea that the avenger and the psycopath are simply Taoic counterparts in a dualistic universe. I Saw the Devil is particularly striking in this respect, in that the psychopaths in this film are directly connected with the idea that there is an active form of evil in the world that can never be mitigated as yin.

The final scene of Samaritan Girl really ties this all together, which is why I think it lies close to the heart of the entire genre. I don't want to spoil the film if you haven't seen it, so go watch it and consider the ending. Thinking of it as the fallout of revenge, of an attempt to preserve or valorize innocence by means of violence, makes its striking sense of loss all the more haunting. And here is where the Korean revenge genre gets really interesting. If their narrative logic is pushed to its breaking point, these are ultimately pacifist films. There are not films just about violence and action, but they are films about violence as the absence of peace, as an aberration that blooms from mental and spiritual anxiety which can only be best interpreted within a generally Catholic moral vision.

Edited by M. Leary, 19 September 2011 - 10:46 AM.


#38 opus

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 09:58 AM

Leary, I fully expect your most recent post to end up as a Filmwell article. (Related: I've been meaning to review The Man from Nowhere for Filmwell for awhile now.)

I do like your thinking that Korean revenge films are ultimately pacifist films. I think of OldBoy, for example, in which the pursuit of revenge -- while portrayed in some very cool, albeit non-naturalistic ways (e.g., the hallway fight) -- is ultimately portrayed as something horrible and sickening, something that affects those around it in very negative ways.

#39 M. Leary

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 10:45 AM

(Related: I've been meaning to review The Man from Nowhere for Filmwell for awhile now.)


I look forward to it. This is an interesting standout among the genre for a few reasons, the biggest difference being that its avenger is a legitimate protagonist that doesn't have a lot of baggage other than a backstory referred to in passing. It is a film very close to The Professional in the purity of its narrative structure. But The Man From Nowhere actually gets me choked up at the end. These Korean directors really know how to embed action within legit emotional arcs.

But as far as the above is concerned, I appreciate pushback on the Catholic angle. I would also appreciate recommendations on the history of Catholicism in South Korea.

#40 opus

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 11:10 AM

The Professional came to mind for me too, as did Taken. (Though I thought that The Man From Nowhere was everything Taken should've been.)

And I've said before, but I'll say it again: Korean directors are masters of melodrama.

Edited by opus, 19 September 2011 - 11:11 AM.