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Laramie Movie Scope:
I Saw the Devil (Akmareul boatda)

A race to the moral bottom

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 25, 2011 -- This bloody morality tale has plenty of action and suspense, but it is difficult to watch because of the extreme cruelty and savagery depicted. It is a very intense film that plumbs the depth of human depravity and evil. It features a spectacular performance by Choi Min-sik as Kyung-chul, one of the most scary and evil villains ever seen in any film. He meets his match when he kills the fiancée of Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun). Soo-hyun is a secret agent highly skilled in martial arts. Soo-hyun hunts down the killer and vows to make him suffer as he made his many victims suffer.

This Korean film is a bit hard to follow for those of us who don't speak Korean. At first, I couldn't figure out why Soo-hyun, who I thought was a businessman, was such a good fighter. Then somebody mentioned the spy thing and it made sense. The girl brutally murdered by Kyung-chul at the opening of the film, Joo-yeon (San-ha Oh) also happens to be the daughter of a former high-ranking police officer, who obtains for Soo-hyun a list of suspects for his daughter's murder. Soo-hyun methodically works his way through the list, putting suspects in the hospital until he finds the killer.

Soo-hyun beats Kyung-chul, breaking his wrist and knocking him out, but he doesn't kill him. Instead, he implants a tracking device into Kyung-chul and follows him, attacking him again and again to exact his revenge. But he underestimates Kyung-chul, who proves to be cunning and resilient. Kyung-chul kills again and Soo-hyun is unable to prevent this. Each time he attacks Kyung-chul, the killer learns more about him, and eventually Kyung-chul takes a terrible revenge against Soo-hyun. This cat and mouse game between these two gets increasingly deadly and the violence spreads to more people.

The moral of the story is that in seeking revenge, Soo-hyun becomes a monster, much like the man he is trying to punish. Their final confrontation is hard to watch, as are other intense scenes in the film, as Soo-hyun brutally tortures Kyung-chul. This is a game that neither man can win. There are some interesting plot twists in the film, some of them not believable. The scenes of cruelty and depravity are extreme and troubling. Choi Min-sik's performance is outstanding as the monstrous villain. He isn't just evil. Kyung-chul is a fully rounded character with textures. In fact, he is the most fully realized character in the film. More layers are revealed in his personality as the film goes along. His strength, resilience, and cunning make him almost heroic. Of the two combatants, Kyung-chul seems the stronger.

While the film is effective in transporting the viewer into a hellish, nightmare world, and the morality tale works, there are some problems with the plot. Parts of it are not very believable. This is a difficult film to watch because of the cruelty of the graphic violence. You get the feeling of needing a shower after watching it. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)