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Korean 'Devil' is uncompromising, violent and terrific

Korean 'Devil' is uncompromising, violent and terrific

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I Saw the Devil
Min-sik Choi in "I Saw the Devil" (Magnet Releasing)

Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is a sociopath with an irresistible impulse to rape and kill. He views his victims as prey and does whatever it takes to slaughter them. Sometimes, that means risking his life, as when he strikes out at two men in a moving car. But that's the discipline.

Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is a lawman with a mission. He'll stop at nothing to make Kyung-chul pay for his crimes — and that means everything is on the table. The criminal who has taken so much pride in inflicting pain is about to get an education in what it's like to endure it.

"I Saw the Devil," directed by Kim Jee-woon from a script by Park Hoon-jung, is a terrific but uncompromising film that's definitely not for everyone. It's not just that the violence is graphic, but that much of it is so mean-spirited. Even hard-core fans of cinematic splatter might be offended. That said, Kim is a masterful filmmaker, and there's something admirable about his approach. He seems to be saying: Yes, this is enough to turn your stomach. So why are you still watching?

The performances are electrifying. Choi, who starred in "Oldboy" (2003), brings to his role a nasty glee that's reminiscent of Robert De Niro's performance in "Cape Fear" (1991). Lee is quite adept at conveying both the thrill of pursuit and the agony of self-reflection.

This is one film that's highly unlikely to prompt an American remake. Hollywood believes in heroes, and in recent years its tolerance for antiheroes has significantly increased. But Soo-hyun is ultimately a villain — a conflicted one, to be sure, but just as prone to sadism as Kyung-chul.

That kind of moral ambiguity is a hard sell, and making it safe for the multiplexes would take major watering down.

What "I Saw the Devil" • Three and a half stars (out of four) • Rating Not rated • Run time 2:22 • Language Korean with English subtitles

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