Saturday, September 18, 2010

San Sebastián: I SAW THE DEVIL

I'll admit up front that I really don't get on too well with Kim Ji-woon among Korea's genre virtuosos, basically because I keep waiting for his films to develop beyond snazzy, self-adoring showreels with an ever-dwindling sense of actually going anywhere. A Tale of Two Sisters was entirely promising and allowable in this regard, without quite, for me, being the full banquet many enjoyed; A Bittersweet Life left me as thoroughly cold as gratuitously bloody existential macho cool always seems wont, if not actively designed, to do; and The Good, the Bad, the Weird wore out its crazy, caffeinated welcome long before the 130-minute running time crawled to a cherished end. Even longer and flinging out a frankly batshit pick'n'mix of customised serial-killer revenge games, I Saw the Devil is operatically grisly if nothing else: the first victim, betrothed to Lee Byung-hun's sharp-suited secret agent, is jumped in her broken-down car, begs for her life and explains she's pregnant before getting casually hacked up by Choi Min-sik's favourite cleaver, leaving only a severed ear (!) and a head in a box (!) to hint at her vapidly film-referential fate. There's plenty more squirmy stuff with Achilles tendons being slowly sliced, guillotines roaring in the OTT sound mix (OTT are Kim's favourite letters, except maybe CRAZY!), and a whole bevy more victims being leeringly and kind of annoyingly jeopardised by the illogical deferrals of Lee's payback scheme. Still sporting the most devastating male cheekbones in cinema, he can't for one second plausibly drive the character to let Choi off the hook as often as he does: Kim wants that Nietzsche quote about monsters becoming monsters to justify the absurd contortions of his prolong-the-pain plot, but it doesn't at all. You get the moment-by-moment set piece flair you're probably expecting, and Choi's louche villainy, schticky though it is by now: he's just the latest sick fiend with style, one of many psycho loners Kim is caught between reviling and blatantly idolising. But how often can a camera adopt the sex killer's aroused point of view, panning right up into a schoolgirl's trembling knickers, before you start to feel a dodgy complicity about this whole fandango? D


NicksFlickPicks said...

Yay, festival reports! The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is finally on its way to the U.S., so I'm glad to know not to have expectations too high. This guy's schtick doesn't sound like my kind of thing. At all. I thought the same as you did about Tale of Two Sisters, so I'm wondering if I should just leave it at that.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Excited to see you scoring the new Mullan highly. Talk him a while, so I'm glad it was worth it!