Perhaps it's the softly fluttering snow and chilling feeling of impending doom at the start of "I Saw the Devil" that calls to mind the lovely, delicate horror movie, "Let the Right One In." But then, before you can settle into your popcorn and Whoppers, any flicker of that tale of unlikely pre-teen friendship is blown away as the story twists into a disturbing portrait that shares more in common with "The Killer Inside Me" and "Seven." And when those are the films you're reminded of, you know you're in good, but uncomfortable, horror hands.
If you're an aspiring filmmaker, go ahead and bump "Citizen Kane" from the top of your Netflix queue and replace it with everything Kim Ji-woon has ever directed. A master of genre pictures that range from family dramas like "A Tale of Two Sisters" to his brilliant slapstick spaghetti Western, "The Good, the Bad and the Weird," the Korean director's latest film is visceral, blood splattered and pulse quickening, but still gloriously shot and an exceptional example of what can be done with classic horror/thriller elements like murder, torture and revenge.
The film follows a special government agent (Byung-hun Lee, known to American audiences as Storm Shadow from "G.I. Joe") as he exacts vigilante justice and revenge on the serial killer ("Oldboy" star Choi Min Sik returning to the big screen after a self-imposed hiatus) who viciously murdered his wife. But this isn't a cat-and-mouse game that spins along until the last ten minutes. Both men are the hunters and the prey, equally hellbent on a campaign of retribution.
"I Saw the Devil" is shockingly violent, drawing gasps from the audience and quickly alienating any viewers who are faint of heart, but the magnitude of depravity is what makes it nail-biting, heart-pounding experiential cinema.