Undeniably one of the most brutal and devastating films about revenge ever made, I Saw the Devil provides an intense and discomforting experience like few other films. However, I found it somewhat overrated; it's nowhere near Kim Jee-woon's worst film, that would be the still entertaining The Last Stand, but considering the consistent high praise it's been getting, I couldn't help but be slightly dissapointed by it.
Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik give extremely committed performances, with Min-sik portraying one of the most disgusting and terrifying serial killers I've ever seen in a movie. It's a testament to Min-sik's acting that he takes this somewhat one-note character and makes him utterly monstrous. Every time you think he cannot surpass himself in depravity, he actually does. Byung-hun, in his third consecutive film with Jee-woon, makes palpable the despair and moral descent of his character.
Director Kim Jee-woon certainly pushes the boundaries of on-screen violence in a mainstream movie and although there are numerous shocking scenes of unspeakable brutality, there's a point around the halfway mark where the violence becomes so over-the-top that it loses quite a bit of credibility during some crucial sequences.
The amount of damage that Choi Min-sik's character endures throughout the film is simply impossible to take seriously, given that he endures getting his head bashed countless times and he's pretty much intact two days later, gets his Achilles Tendon slashed and then keeps walking with a slight limp, and survives a brutal car crash with barely a scratch on him.
Despite my misgivings, I Saw the Devil is an shocking and extreme revenge film with a downright brutal and heartbreaking ending that proves once again what other South Korean films about the subject have already proven: revenge is worthless.