Jesus fucking christ. This was a movie that left me in utter awe. It took me through so many emotions that I didn’t know how I felt by the end. The whole story made me uncomfortable. It unmistakably took shock and gore to their ugliest extremes. And at one moment I was rooting for more, excited by the protagonist’s conquest of revenge, and in the next I felt ashamed. This film put me in the protagonist’s shoes more than most others. And in doing so it provided emotions that have never been evoked by a film.
In essence this is a revenge movie, but like another film I looked at recently, Oldboy, it eschews the romantic view of revenge. Instead it creates horror and madness. Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun) is a special agent who’s wife is kidnapped, raped, brutally murdered, chopped up, and scattered over a swamp. This sets into motion Kim’s quest for revenge, and begins his transformation into a monster hardly better than the murderer, Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik)
Choi Min-sik gives a brilliant performance as the bloodthirsty psychopathic devil. Every shot of his face sent chills up my spine. You could look into those eyes and see the depths of his evil and the joy and sick pleasure he derived from causing horrific pain and misery. The excellent cinematography and direction (by Kim Jee-woon) does wonders to show the brutality for how furiously disgusting it is. I particularly enjoyed the shots of Kyung-chul’s hole in the wall murder shack, which when shot from outside looking in exudes the feeling of some terrible masochistic cave the likes of which may have spawned Satan himself and could possibly be the source for some grand evil of which we have no concept.
Violence is shown directly and it caused gut reactions in the viewer. My stomach churned at the images of Kyung-chul handling his victim’s bodies or beginning to assault some innocent school girl as he ran his gnarled hands over her skin. But the violence also inspired feelings of excitement when Soo-hyeon tortured Kyung-chul into believably terrifying screams. It felt unmistakably good to see such pain inflicted upon someone so clearly awful and evil that I didn’t think twice about the consequences of such actions. To me Kyung-chul was deserved of these torturous actions and it was only proper that Soo-hyeon reciprocate the feelings inflicted upon him to Kyung-chul.
The film takes a turn for the horrible when Kyung-chul exacts his revenge. My gut wrenched, as feelings of guilt and shame wrapped my psyche into a twisted image of its prior self. It seemed obvious that the film was shooting for the theme of the feeling of revenge transforming normally good individuals into monstrous figures capable of unimaginably terrible violence, but in my excitement at Kyung-chul’s pain I ignored this theme, much like Soo-hyeon did. And he paid a severe price for his mistakes.
At the end of the film we are left wondering who the titular devil is. On the surface it seems to be Kyung-chul, a sociopathic entity devoid entirely of remorse or emotion. But in the end it seems that the devil is instead Soo-hyeon, who’s quest to satisfy his thirst for vengeance caused far more pain that was deserved.
Excellent film, and a new favorite of mine for sure.