Tag Archives: Kim Jee-woon

I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil

Format: Cinema

Release date: 29 April 2011

Venues: tbc

DVD, Bluray + EST release: 9 May 2011

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writer: Park Hoon-jung

Original title: Akmareul boatda

Cast: Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, Jeon Gook-hwan

South Korea 2010

141 mins

When it comes to revenge, the punishment should not only fit the crime but it should re-enact it. William Wallace’s execution in Braveheart (1995) is a re-enactment of the crimes of which he has been found guilty. He inspires internal rebellion, so his own intestines are ripped out; he wishes to separate the kingdom, then his limbs are racked; he disobeys the head of state, his own head must come off. This is a principle of the law as vengeance, on which public executions used to be based, and which in turn inspired a whole spate of Jacobean revenge dramas, most famously Hamlet. In Kim Jee-Woon‘s new film, I Saw the Devil, vengeance is all, in a full-throated, blood-soaked revenge opera.

The initial murder and the subsequent investigation occupy a slim part of the film and are slickly despatched. The pregnant fiancée of National Security agent Soo-hyun is captured, tortured and murdered by Kyung-chul (played by the Oldboy himself, Choi Min-sik). Soo-hyun tracks him down with relative ease and, unhampered by the niceties of due process, sets about his revenge. It is here the film takes a genuinely perverse turn. Reckoning killing’s too good for this psycho, Soo-hyun sets about a game not so much of cat and mouse as rabid cat and rabid cat, torturing Kyung-chul only to release him so he can be hunted again. Soo-hyun goes about his task with a steely-eyed determination and grimly funny verve, which wins reluctant admiration from the serial killers he comes across even as it risks losing audience sympathy. But who cares about sympathy? This is a world of banal and ubiquitous evil, populated by school children, defenceless women (with one exception), ineptly woeful cops and predatory sadists of whom Kyung-chul seems like a charismatic leader. An old pal speaks of him as if he were a guru from the 60s: ‘We were going to turn the world upside down.’ The ordinariness of Kyung-chul is disconcerting. As in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), this is a banal evil. Kyung-chul has a disapproving father, an abandoned son and a day job (school bus driver, I know, I know). His victims are despatched with whatever comes to hand, a piece of pipe, a screwdriver, and souvenirs are kept in filing cabinets, rather than a Seven-like shrine.

Soo-hyun’s revenge is grimly witty, but the film, despite the extremity of the violence, never gets bogged down in torture porn. Soo-hyun’s main dilemma is not so much concerned with the morality of vengeance, but rather a technical question: how can the revenger truly replicate the crime to be avenged? How can the pain and fear of the innocent victim be inflicted on the guilty? Surely, if you care enough to want it, you’ve already lost. Soo-hyun’s solution is both blackly hilarious and tragically absurd.

John Bleasdale

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The Good the Bad the Weird
The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Format: Cinema

Release date: 6 February 2009

Distributor: Icon

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Writers: Kim Jee-woon, Kim Min-suk

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung

Original title: Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom

South Korea 2008

120 minutes

There is a little ominous talk of a map, cutting to a bird of prey hovering, then swooping down to snatch carrion from the tracks of an oncoming train, which the camera flies through in a dazzling tracking shot as the Spanish guitars kick in on the soundtrack, following a bustling figure closely through the busy carriages until he suddenly pulls out a gun and you realise you haven’t breathed for two minutes. Welcome to Kim Jee-woon‘s insanely enjoyable ‘oriental Western’ The Good, The Bad, The Weird, in which three great Korean actors (Lee Byung-hun, Jung Woo-sung and the godlike Song Kang-ho) chase each other, fight each other, then chase and fight some more as they scramble after some kind of treasure map in 1930s Manchuria.

I suspect that if you know your oriental history there will be a little more going on; Korea is referred to throughout as a stolen country, the Japanese are clearly the bastards du jour, and there is a running theme that if you don’t have a country any more then money will have to do. But this is first and foremost a film about sound and vision, of body language and colour. It’s just about puddle deep, has no female characters worth a damn, and is blatantly cobbled together from other sources, but who cares? It grabs the audience from the start with the dizzying train robbery/ bandit attack / bounty hunter shootout sequence and then doesn’t really let go for another couple of hours, culminating in a jaw-dropping motorbike vs cavalry vs entire Japanese army at 80 miles an hour sequence that had my inner 12-year-old grinning like a crazy bastard. It’s got a wonderful percussive score, it looks fantastic, the three leads are great and it keeps the CGI to a minimum. I have a problem with the ending, but you don’t need to know that.

‘Life is about chasing and being chased’, Song Kang-ho states in one of the few placid moments, well… no, but this film is. It’s a blast. Go see.

Mark Stafford