Film: I Saw The Devil (Akmareul Boattda / 악마를 보았다)

Year: 2010

Director: Jee-woon Kim

Venue: ICA, London

Further Info:


Lee Byung-hun

Choi Min-sik

Oh San-ha

Jeon Kuk-hwan

Kim Yun-seo

Choi Moo-sung

Kim In-seo

Cheon Ho-jin

Since hearing that this much-raved about movie was to show for a two week run at the ICA I was determined to catch it. And this weekend (and the movie’s first one at the ICA on this two week run) proved a good time to give me a good sobering up, in certain ways.

I was a tad concerned that this was a true horror and thus me going to see such a flick would go against all that I’d said before about the horror genre, albeit referring to Hollywood when previously ‘dissing’ it. I don’t want to be thought of as some kind of hypocrite – it proved to me, ultimately though that this was essentially a thriller…although an unflinching, bloody and ‘cutting’ * one. [*how apt a word]

Anyway, I was seated with 2 drinks – yes, 2…a black coffee and a red wine. Well, this film is just under 2.5 hours in length.

As I was saying… Whilst I was seated there, the first (pre) movie fact that struck me was the distribution company name of Showbox. I had noted the same name on the film Sa-Kwa, which I’d seen only a couple of days before at the Korean Cultural Centre.

Plot spoiling aside, I’ll give my best rendition of what was in store for us the audience…and for you, should you see it.

…And of course I hope you do.

But, I’m sure it’s not indeed for everyone & this is for the reasons I stated before [i.e. horror; bloody – and this sentiment was seconded by one of the ICA staff on my visit] and also because even I thought “how bad can it be? I have a strong stomach” but was still awestruck. Awestruck pleasantly whilst shockingly at times.

The opening shot is a touch clever, beautiful and at the same time, haunting. We, of course don’t know why…but the music ‘plays’ it’s part – or should I say the ‘intrument/s’ play the music.

We’re in a place a long way from home, at least in the sense that home may be a town or city and that this area is not. We can see this upon being introduced to the first female character of this picture.

To expand on the latter a tad. What detracted me away from the thought of this being a horror, as such, was a scene interspersed from the one of this lonely girl, into another, by way of showing us a guy who cares very deeply for her and in a very different setting. He is elsewhere and I guess in a town or city location. If we had been shown this girl in a remote or country location and stayed there for every shot & scene it would remind me of a horror, and of the seen-it-too-many-times-already sub-genre. In summary, the interaction between various characters and the roles they play (whether this be a relative, police office-type or friend) is indeed what helped assure me that this was more a thriller than anything else.

Now, a girl somewhere remote has got to tell you something. And it speaks volumes when we are also introduced to a nicely quiet (and therefore surely creepy) guy. I’m speaking of the character played by “Old Boy” himself, Choi Min-sik.


The aforementioned girl being shown to us and the fact that we’re almost simultaneously introduced to the town-living deeply-caring-guy (& perhaps lover) gives a good amount of vagueness as to where she will end up. In his arms or in the arms of “creepy Old Boy” … or worse!

If I was to sum up how this film begins to pan out or style-up to in one title I guess it would be “The Silence of The Lambs” B U T (that’s a big but…’I like bit buts’ *sigh*) put all 3 related ‘lambs’ films and sequels together (or the 5 or more there are now) and you still don’t have enough cringeworthy or bone-crunching gore & spurts of blood as you do in this movie.

Perhaps this type of gore or unflinchingly violent crimes is new to me but it’s definitely displayed very well here. But why is this sometimes called unflinching … ? I flinched enough times in this film…! Indeed, the Japanese-crafted “Cold Fish” was pretty gruesome but this Korean offering seems to take things a step further. There is at least one real ‘jaw-dropping’ moment in this movie… Or perhaps the hinting term I should use is ‘side-splitting’.

A cat & mouse chase could be used to describe this picture, certainly in places. There are also moments in which you are convinced the game is up for parties involved and sometimes..err..well I’m not saying it’s predictable at times but…

…You know those moments when someone always turns up in the nick of time… Hmm…


The thing is that you have to give it it’s due for the simple fact that not once was I bored or uninterested in it’s 2.5 hours of suspense, black humour and well, violence. And the minimal dialogue will appeal to the “I don’t do subtitles” crowd.

Indeed, it keeps you glued, keeps you watching and keeps you from ever being bored. To put it another way, if you are feeling a little weak in the waters & need to escape briefly to that little room outside of the auditorium, you may find it difficult to pick the best moment to walk out.

*TMI Alert* – I popped out around the halfway mark and missed a slight character introduction. Who were these new characters? A lunatic’s brother and his wife? Do I really know, even now? [of course, perhaps I’ll go and read someone else’s in-depth review of this same film, but at the moment I’m content].

There is a great but tiny moment where I thought that the line “he washes his hands clean off of it” would be apt, if this were an out & out comedy. Add to this the fact that I saw an almost “Home Alone” scene, it basically shows that my humour gland or attention to such detail is never switched off – and for that I apologise to any whom find it sickening or *sigh*kening.

In summary, I Saw The Devil can be cliched and formulaic but it’s also uncompromising & if temptation to see it isn’t enough already it includes one of the best, if non-unique displays of the uses of GPS ever put to film [of ones which lowly I have seen, of course].

If you’re expecting a Hollywood ending it hints at one but I’m not going to say one way or another any more than that. But, well done Dir. Jee-woon Kim!

Just…Go See This Devil-director At Work!