I Saw the Devil


Written by James Read
09 Monday 09th May 2011

Why is ‘violent revenge’ a common theme in Korean films (Park Chan-Wook's Revenge Trilogy, your own A Bittersweet Life, The Man from Nowhere, Bedevilled) of late?

Across all ages and countries in the world, the theme of revenge is attractive because it is the most dramatic, and it deals with the human’s most extreme and enhanced emotion. The catalyst of revenge induces an electrifying emotion in humans and that is probably why entertainment films deal with revenge a lot.

However, if you observe a revenge plot calmly, you cannot help but have many questions. Is personal revenge right? Do we need ethical considerations in how we punish when seeking revenge? Revenge is achieved when there is no longer a motive and results in damage; so is it possible to succeed in complete revenge? Such complex worldviews and the dramatic and enhanced emotions dealt with (as well as visual spectacles) in revenge cannot help being an attractive factor for Korean directors who consider the director’s style and theme important.

Added to that is Korea’s intense and dynamic characteristic that can seen as the South America of Asia; the Nation’s accumulated conscience of having never invaded another country but having been subjected to invasion in its modern history; and perceptions of the human dignity as it had to be suppressed under dictatorship until the 90s when eventually social and economic democracy was achieved.

Korean cinema contains many themes and genres, not only this film. However, I think that the Korean films that foreigners like are those that contain these themes and genres especially.

Do you think that you have a moral responsibility in film making? If so, how does the portrayal of women largely as passive victims of sexualised violence come into this?

Of course, I am morally cautious of overstepping my boundaries. However, the various expressions in this film are evidenced in other film’s explicitness of violence too. Also, it can be argued that it is expressed appropriately according to this film’s content. For a different material or theme, it could be expressed differently. However, this film deals with a man who dreams of powerful revenge after experiencing tragedy as a passive victim. That is why it is inappropriate to talk about other visions. However, the women in this film are neither self-indulgent, risky nor exaggerated like in other horror or thrillers. At least they acted realistically and did not express unnecessary kindness or friendliness but had an everyday cautiousness and fear. Arguing the contrary to this may be damaging to the realism of this film.

You only give a little background to serial killer Kyung-Chul's character. Did you want him to come across as an anonymous murderer without motivation?

I did not want to make this film lifeless or conventional with a see-through formula where he became a murderer because of the environment or some trauma. This film is not about someone who became an extraordinary murderer because of this and that, but that there is a murderer and the person who loved the victim the most seeks revenge.

I wanted to portray madness without reason and madness with reason. As these 2 madnesses collided, I wanted to draw the dark inner world of man.

The film is quite stylised, with a dark and muted colour scheme and some pretty claustrophobic camera angles. How important do you see non-conventional cinematography in telling a story?

The cinematography that I aspire to is to show an extremely common and dull conversation scene of a family eating around the table in the liveliest and tensest manner.

Each time, I think ‘How does one make a common scene appear like a special moment?’ So every time I make a film I think about uncommon cinematography and how to use it for each scene. I consider that process very seriously and as important.

You've made a Korean Western, a horror film, a revenge drama, and a noir thriller. What's next?

Until recently, I had thought that I was searching for a new genre as well. I chose the genre first and created material or a story that was optimal for that genre. But when thinking about it, I realised that some factors such as curiosity or desire were playing a role before I chose the genre… Each time I chose a new project, it mainly reflected some emotion or feeling that I had felt in the previous project. For example, in my debut film, The Quiet Family I mixed comedy and horror to create a form of dual genre. This film is closer to a chaotic situation-play rather than a narration. So I wanted to try a project that had a more dramatic element or stronger narrative flow and made The Foul King. After making The Foul King, I wanted to make a story about women so made the short film Memories and A Tale of Two Sisters. Then I thought about making a male version of A Tale of Two Sisters: combining feminine delicacy and intense masculine elements, this produced A Bittersweet Life, A Bittersweet Life goes into the strangely shifting inner world of one man so for the next film I wanted to make a more outgoing, unique-genre film on large scale so made The Good, The Bad, and The Weird.

The Good, The Bad, and The Weird’ was too large a scale and focused on elaborate spectacles so for the next film I wanted a more condensed and dense film, which became I Saw The Devil.  In other words, the film that is being made produces intense curiosity and desire for another point, which is developed in my mind. Then with the image in my mind I choose a genre. The genre selection is important in order to materialize that picture in my head. So the next film tends to release and materialise the desire and deficiency of the current and previously made film.

Therefore, I think that the next film will either be a brighter and more delightful film or a kinder film.

I Saw The Devil is currently on release at selected cinemas and on DVD/Blu-ray

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