Wednesday, 25 May 2011

I Saw the Devil

Revenge films move on a idea of punishment, a wronged party moving heaven and earth to equalise a situation, usually by destroying the transgressor. I Saw the Devil begins like that. Secret service agent Kim Soo-hyun attempts to make himself cold and brutal to track the man who murdered his fiancee. He uses the compassionate leave granted to him to hunt and disfigure a series of likely suspects. Through a pitiless process of elimination, Soo-hyun finds himself orbiting the psychotic Kyung-chul. They clash, Soo-hyun quickly, and easily winning. Finding himself dissatisfied, Soo-hyun releases Kyung-chul, choosing instead to pursue and slowly break him. Soo-hyun theorises this will be torture for the killer, creating a simulation situation where Kyung-chul will feel the same helplessness as the women he murders.

The logic is sound, but profoundly fails to understand Kyung-chul's thought process. Soo-hyun is a man who felt and gave love. Until he embarked on his crusade, he was surrounded by people who cared for and valued him. These ties make him human and vulnerable. Kyung-chul has no such connections. His only imperative is the capture and destruction of women. He keeps his family at arm's length, and serves nothing or no-one but his drives. Above all, there's an idea that he expects to die in their pursuit. The extended catch and release scenarios don't work like punishment for him. He's immune to their spectre. Instead, they are reprieves. They allow him to go on damaging. Kyung-chul never doubts his actions, and certainly never considers revising them. Unlike many cop / criminal examinations, I Saw the Devil draws little similarities between the two states. Each is separate and distinct; and both are undone by presuming to understand the other. Ultimately, Soo-hyun's revenge is limp and self-defeating, torturing only himself. It's one thing to act like a monster, quite another to think like one.

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