FrightFest Special: David Campion on I Saw the Devil

The Glasgow Film Festival has been invaded by Frightfest – could you ever imagine the London Film Festival including a genre segment in their bill? No, me neither. High props to Glasgow for opening their doors and hearts to the hordes of drooling horror fans, many of whom have travelled not only from England, but Germany and even Australia [somebody must have really wanted to see Little Deaths].

So, first for me is the latest Korean export, I Saw the Devil. Having already screened across the Atlantic, most notably Toronto and Sundance, the film has already earned a lot of buzz from critics and genre fans alike. Despite my high expectations, Kim Ji-Woon managed to surprise me with a whole new level of filmmaking. ISTD combines the clinical attention to detail as seen in Zodiac, the fierce psychological examination of a serial killer as seen in Silence of the Lambs, but injects it with a hyper kinetic quality, not unlike Christopher Nolan at his finest.

Thematically, the film is strong, playing with the concept of revenge and repetition; raising the question of when does revenge become unfulfilling? Kyung-Chul [Choi Min-sik] is a depraved serial killer, with no sense of morality or empathy; in real life this man deserves to be punished, in filmic terms, he deserves to die. However, for our ‘hero’, Soo-Hyun [Lee Byung-hun], death is not enough. Instead, he plants a tracking device into the killer and proceeds to beat him within an inch of his life, before letting him go and repeating the process.

I Saw the Devil not only boasts an engaging script, fine performances, pitch-perfect direction and high drama, but it also delivers on a primal splatter level as well. The deaths are messy and disturbing. There is a moment when Kyung-Chul shares a car ride with two shifty gentlemen. There is an air of Hitchcockian tension, especially as each man looks as dangerous as the other. This tension is broken when Kyung-Chul unleashes his rage, repeatedly stabbing the driver and his accomplice. In all my years of watching horror films, I have never witnessed such fury with a knife.

Much like Oldboy, ISTD has a westernized flavor. Aesthetically, both films evoke the spirit of David Fincher, whilst ISTD also takes a direct cue from No for Country Old Men. In the way Tarantino is happy to pinch bits from European cinema and make it his own, the film wears it influences on its sleeve, confident enough in its own originality. Kim Ji-Woon is friends with Park Chan-Wook [Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Thirst] and Bong Joon-ho [The Host, Mother] and collectively, the trio represent an exciting new wave in Korean filmmaking. All three directors have a knack for taking typical ‘genre’ cinema and elevating it way beyond the norm. This has to do with their impeccable technique and understanding of cinema.  Personally, I’m keeping my eyes on these filmmakers, as I am expecting even greater films to come.

David Campion is the Co – Director of Patrol Men

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