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I Saw The Devil


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#41 Ryan H.

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 12:30 PM

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.

Wow. That's some tremendous praise.

IThat 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.

This are wonderful thoughts, Michael. Your comments have certainly given me plenty to think about (as well as a few new films to see).

Edited by Ryan H., 19 September 2011 - 12:31 PM.


#42 M. Leary

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 08:50 AM

It is too late to start an overall Korean revenge thread, but I guess I will have to spread comments on specific films out to their designated threads. Link to Lady Vengeance thread. Link to Mr. Vengeance thread.

Edited by M. Leary, 20 September 2011 - 08:53 AM.


#43 Christian

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 10:57 AM

This is one of the most brutally violent and bloody films ever made. I'm saying that upfront so there is no mistaking that my extremely high recommendation comes with an extreme warning.

I searched A&F for "devil" thinking I'd remembered a thread here on this film, which I tried to watch last night.

I lasted 20 minutes, and wish I hadn't gone as far as I had.

I have never seen a "Saw" movie, or any "torture porn" (I thought "Vacancy" approached torture porn but was told otherwise). I can't imagine it being much worse than what I saw during the opening of "I Saw the Devil."

I know this film has its share of acclaim. I suspect I might like it more if I just gave it a chance. But I can't. I was so thoroughly disgusted by the opening that I decided to move on to one of the other DVDs I have on loan from the library. Think I'll give "Insidious" a shot tonight.

Edited by Christian, 13 March 2012 - 11:55 AM.


#44 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 11:34 AM


This is one of the most brutally violent and bloody films ever made. I'm saying that upfront so there is no mistaking that my extremely high recommendation comes with an extreme warning.

I searched A&F for "devil" thinking I'd remembered a thread here on this film, which I tried to watch last night.

I lasted 20 minutes, and wish I hadn't gone as far as I had.

I have never seen a "Saw" movie, or any "torture porn" (I thought "Vacancy" approached torture porn but was told otherwise). I can't imagine it being much worse that what I saw during the opening of "I Saw the Devil."

I know this film has its share of acclaim. I suspect I might like it more if I just gave it a chance. But I can't. I was so thoroughly disgusted by the opening that I decided to move on to one of the other DVDs I have on loan from the library. Think I'll give "Insidious" a shot tonight.


Well, I did warn you. :) I've seen worse things in films, but it's the realism of the opening of this film that makes it so unbearable. But that's also the necessary engine that drives the movie, as it's about the revenge for that crime -- and what makes the film so special I think, is that it makes you yearn for revenge (because of that heinous opening) and yet the revenge itself only adds to the cycle of violence. It is in the end, and anti-vengeance film.

#45 Thom Wade

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 02:57 PM

I have never seen a "Saw" movie, or any "torture porn" (I thought "Vacancy" approached torture porn but was told otherwise).


Just a quick digression, torture porn applies to Saw and Hostel because the gratuitous torture is the plot. Vacancy (and Touristas) is a actually cat and mouse thriller. The people might be in tense situations...but torture porn is about focusing heavily on the torture scenes. Many of the films labeled as torture porn actually have little focus on scenes of torture and are about keeping the viewer tense, but it is about the chase.

Back to the discussion of this film, which is still in my Netflix queue to be watched.

#46 Ryan H.

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Posted 12 March 2012 - 05:56 PM

I lasted 20 minutes, and wish I hadn't gone as far as I had.

You're not the only one.

#47 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 13 March 2012 - 12:41 AM

It's my second favorite film of 2011, after TREE OF LIFE. If I watched them back-to-back, I think my head would explode.

#48 Ryan H.

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Posted 13 March 2012 - 05:33 AM

To each their own, Scott. I'm not gonna knock you for digging it. Though, as usual, we're on different pages, since THE TREE OF LIFE wasn't really one of my favorite films of the year, either. (Darren H and I will have our own MYSTERIES OF LISBON party, since we seem to be the only two here to have really fallen in love with that film. :P)

I've admittedly been a pretty adventurous viewer over the years, but watching what I saw of I SAW THE DEVIL, I had a hard time feeling that any nugget of truth was worth what this film was putting me through. It's an argument that others have made about films I greatly admire--BLUE VELVET, OLDBOY--so I'm not necessarily claiming any kind of moral high ground. Maybe at this point in my life, I'm just mellowing out, or maybe my bad experiences with CONFESSIONS and BATTLE ROYALE (both Japanese, not Korean, I know) have greatly soured me on hyper-violent Asian cinema.

Edited by Ryan H., 13 March 2012 - 05:37 AM.


#49 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 13 March 2012 - 10:43 AM

To each their own, Scott. I'm not gonna knock you for digging it. Though, as usual, we're on different pages, since THE TREE OF LIFE wasn't really one of my favorite films of the year, either. (Darren H and I will have our own MYSTERIES OF LISBON party, since we seem to be the only two here to have really fallen in love with that film. :P)

I've admittedly been a pretty adventurous viewer over the years, but watching what I saw of I SAW THE DEVIL, I had a hard time feeling that any nugget of truth was worth what this film was putting me through. It's an argument that others have made about films I greatly admire--BLUE VELVET, OLDBOY--so I'm not necessarily claiming any kind of moral high ground. Maybe at this point in my life, I'm just mellowing out, or maybe my bad experiences with CONFESSIONS and BATTLE ROYALE (both Japanese, not Korean, I know) have greatly soured me on hyper-violent Asian cinema.


I always object to anyone who publicly judges a film without finishing it, but I never judge anyone for bailing out of a movie for any reason. As for violence/horror, I don't think anyone should feel like they're obliged to make themselves watch something they don't want to watch. I always tell my friends and family who are not horror fans to not go see a horror film I've done -- there's no moral obligation to sit through any particular film, especially a violent one. And be thankful you bailed out when you did, because there's a scene half-way through that for me, was much, much harder to watch than the opening.

By the way, 8 people walked out of my SINISTER screening at SXSW - each one of them were asked by a studio rep why they were leaving, and each one said, "It's too scary." As the director, I love that.

#50 Christian

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Posted 13 March 2012 - 11:54 AM


To each their own, Scott. I'm not gonna knock you for digging it. Though, as usual, we're on different pages, since THE TREE OF LIFE wasn't really one of my favorite films of the year, either. (Darren H and I will have our own MYSTERIES OF LISBON party, since we seem to be the only two here to have really fallen in love with that film. :P)

I've admittedly been a pretty adventurous viewer over the years, but watching what I saw of I SAW THE DEVIL, I had a hard time feeling that any nugget of truth was worth what this film was putting me through. It's an argument that others have made about films I greatly admire--BLUE VELVET, OLDBOY--so I'm not necessarily claiming any kind of moral high ground. Maybe at this point in my life, I'm just mellowing out, or maybe my bad experiences with CONFESSIONS and BATTLE ROYALE (both Japanese, not Korean, I know) have greatly soured me on hyper-violent Asian cinema.


I always object to anyone who publicly judges a film without finishing it, but I never judge anyone for bailing out of a movie for any reason. As for violence/horror, I don't think anyone should feel like they're obliged to make themselves watch something they don't want to watch. I always tell my friends and family who are not horror fans to not go see a horror film I've done -- there's no moral obligation to sit through any particular film, especially a violent one. And be thankful you bailed out when you did, because there's a scene half-way through that for me, was much, much harder to watch than the opening.

By the way, 8 people walked out of my SINISTER screening at SXSW - each one of them were asked by a studio rep why they were leaving, and each one said, "It's too scary." As the director, I love that.

I almost -- almost -- decided to press ahead with the film last night, against my better judgment, because I had convinced myself that the worst of the film was behind me (although no one here has claimed that). Instead I watched Insidious, which was much more up my alley. It had a few hokey moments that were supposed to be frightening, but much more often than not it was effectively spooky. I was surprised that a PG-13 film could evoke the fear that Insidious invokes at times; or maybe I was just relieved that a movie without the graphic content of I Saw the Devil could work as well as Insidious does? The movie made me think of Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures venture, which I thought would produce effective, spooky low-budget movies. The results have been far from consistent -- subpar, I think -- for Ghost House Pictures, so it was fun to sit through a movie that matched my hopes.

Edited by Christian, 13 March 2012 - 12:00 PM.


#51 david rither

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Posted 31 August 2012 - 01:19 PM

i heard scott derrickson talk up i saw the devil at glen west so naturally after watching it last night, the first thing i had to do was come here to find out what people had written about it. and one thing i was wondering is if anyone else had thought about this film in the context of gaspar noe's irreversible.

it seems to me that they're both films that explore the way vengeance is an unspeakably grotesque perversion of justice but, to our great shame, can (at least temporarily) feel somehow more just than justice. and, in order to do that, they both leverage the audience's natural hunger for vengeance/justice—and our sometimes hazy distinction between them—to force us to examine our own moral core. their techniques are very different, of course. but it seems to me that they're exploring a very similar dark, ominous corner of the human psyche.

admittedly, i'm not the biggest fan of the genre, so maybe i'm just picking up on similarities that most movies of this kind would share. but scott's talk at the glen challenged me to think more deeply about the genre and what it has to say and this is my first shot at it!

Edited by murmur000, 31 August 2012 - 01:19 PM.


#52 Scott Derrickson

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 01:00 AM

i heard scott derrickson talk up i saw the devil at glen west so naturally after watching it last night, the first thing i had to do was come here to find out what people had written about it. and one thing i was wondering is if anyone else had thought about this film in the context of gaspar noe's irreversible.

it seems to me that they're both films that explore the way vengeance is an unspeakably grotesque perversion of justice but, to our great shame, can (at least temporarily) feel somehow more just than justice. and, in order to do that, they both leverage the audience's natural hunger for vengeance/justice—and our sometimes hazy distinction between them—to force us to examine our own moral core. their techniques are very different, of course. but it seems to me that they're exploring a very similar dark, ominous corner of the human psyche.

admittedly, i'm not the biggest fan of the genre, so maybe i'm just picking up on similarities that most movies of this kind would share. but scott's talk at the glen challenged me to think more deeply about the genre and what it has to say and this is my first shot at it!


It's a good comparison. And both films may appear to be gratuitous in how they force you to endure the unspeakable - but in both films, the excruciatingly graphic scenes only serve to build your appetite for vengeance, only to see that appetite lost when vengeance is seen for what it is...

#53 Overstreet

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Posted 04 September 2012 - 11:43 AM

David Rither, I can't tell you how happy I am to see you posting at A&F.