Asian Horror Movie Review

The movie I Saw the Devil is a South Korean psychological horror film released in 2010. The movie is impressive because it has positive reviews concerning its script, cinematography, direction, and acting. It was written by Park Hoon-jung and directed by Kim Jee-woon. The peculiarity of this movie is that it presents not only the horror genre but also drama and crime. The strength of this film is that it touches upon the problem of serial killings that are widespread in the modern society. In I Saw the Devil, the spectators deal with a dangerous psychopath serial killer, Jang Kyung-chul, and his victims, usually women and young girls. It means that the movie is based on the investigation of crimes, detection of the personality of the killer, and finding the solutions to the problem. Consequently, this essay intends to analyze the film I Saw the Devil, explore its plot, events, and characters to prove that serial killing is not only the problem of criminal justice but also the psychological one.

Plot Analysis

The film I Saw the Devil touches upon the problem of dangerous psychopath serial killers who threaten the order and safety of people in the community. Jang Kyung-chul is the main character who is involved in infernal serial murders in diabolic ways. It is evident that other protagonists in this movie intend to reveal the personality of the murderer and stop serial killings. The movie depicts the process of chasing the serial killer by the police. However, they are unable to catch him as he hides the evidence carefully. One should say that the film shows the imperfection of the criminal justice system and vulnerability to serial murders. However, the situation changes when the daughter of a retired police chief, Joo-yeon, has been found dead in a horrific state. Then, her fiancé Soo-hyun, who is a top secret agent, makes every effort to reveal the personality of the killer (Jee-woon & Hoon-jung, 2010). He tracks down the murderer himself and is ready to become a monster himself to get this inhumane killer.

The film I Saw the Devil provokes the interest because there is no distinct line between good and evil. It means that the filmmakers give the opportunity to the spectators to underline the boundary in the dangerous game of the serial killer and police officer. The peculiarity of this movie is that being a thriller, it provokes diverse feelings and emotions, including laughter, horror, disgust, shock, and fear. Not without a reason, one can name the film I Saw the Devil an entertaining, disturbing, suspenseful, shocking, and astounding one.

Analysis of Characters

Jang Kyung-chul, who is the academy bus driver, is a serial killer who attacks his victims in different ways. His first victim is Jang Joo-yun who asks help to fix her flat tire. As children and women are the victims of Jang Kyung-chul, it means that he attacks only those who are weaker than he is. The terrible ways of murdering prove that the killer is a psychopathic personality who has mental disorders. The personality of this character shows that the society is dangerous and a person whom people trust can appear to be a criminal. It is evident that Jang Kyung-chul symbolizes evil, antisocial behavior, and psychological disorders that can result in crime committing. The appearance and physical attributes of Jang Kyung-chul do not reveal his psychopathic nature. Moreover, his profession provokes trust as he works with people.

Jang Kyung-chul is a typical prototype of a serial killer who does not have a life aim. He only abducts, degrades, and chops his victims, especially when they beg for their lives. Moreover, his passions are intimidation, sexual assault, and murdering. This character is related directly to other characters as he does not only kill them physically but also destroys them morally. For example, killing Soo-hyun’s girlfriend, Jang Kyung-chul makes him suffer, becoming psychologically obsessed and mentally abused (Jee-woon & Hoon-jung, 2010). 

The design of Soo-hyun, a secret agent and a fiancé of the victim, helps to achieve believability and symbolizes good. He encourages the audience to feel respect and admiration because he is brave, determined, and responsible. Soo-hyun is also the opposition to the police that is negligent in its actions and does not react properly. Despite the protagonist is self-trained he is professional. One should say that he is a strong personality as he deals with his grief seeking vengeance. Soo-hyun’s voice and words establish his character, arguing that spectators can rely on him and trust him as he keeps his word. However, one can also not justify his behavior that refers to playing cat-and-mouse and revenge. It means that Jang Kyung-chul’s evil provokes Soo-hyun’s evil. One can make the conclusion that evil gives birth to evil. However, it is evident that there are no solutions to this dilemma. Soo-hyun’s motivations refer to his feelings and emotions to the dead girlfriend. Consequently, his motivations turn into the chase of the killer.

As mentioned above, it is difficult for the spectator to justify Soo-hyun’s behavior that is based on revenge and a desire to punish Kyung-Chul. However, psychologists can understand him. The feeling of loss and grief can lead the person to madness. It is evident that both characters are motivated by different events based on the common feeling of revenge. The problem is that the central conflict is unresolved at the end of the movie. It means that the filmmakers provide the possibility for the viewers to imagine further events themselves or take time for the continuation.

The Problems Raised in the Movie

The plot of the film I Saw the Devil is not complicated and sophisticated because many movies reveal similar problems. However, the value of this movie is that it manages to combine the issues of the criminal justice system with the psychological ones. Consequently, this film shows the following dilemmas in the criminal justice system: the inability of the police to react adequately and quickly to the citizens’ requests, the imperfection of criminal justice procedures, and the inability to detect crimes. The film I Saw the Devil shows the following psychological problems: the mental disorder of the killer, the feelings of revenge, as well as the psychological and physical vulnerability of victims. It becomes evident that a quest for revenge is a driving force that encourages Soo-hyun to investigate this case. Being an absolute classic of horror, this movie studies such psychological dilemma as psychopathic behavior that refers to the problem of psychologists and criminologists. Consequently, the actions of Jang Kyung-chul should be treated using criminal psychology.

Further, the film I Saw the Devil touches upon the problem of morality and ethical principles. Jang Kyung-chul does not have them at all, and Soo-hyun betrays his moral values becoming obsessed with the idea of revenge. It means that the choice of revenge cannot be justified as it gives birth to violence and cruelty. The actions of Soo-hyun show that he can be monstrous when it comes to people whom he loves. Moreover, this film reveals the problem of vulnerability of women and children who cannot defend themselves from abuse. Without a doubt, the filmmakers portray women in horrifying circumstances. However, their aim is to reinforce the importance of this problem for the community.

The filmmakers underline the theme of revenge that is popular in the Korean cinematography. Consequently, in the movie I Saw the Devil, there is no future, justification, and hope for the characters. This film is based on the game of cat and mouse that turns in a collision with disaster. The feeling of revenge is a terrible one as it blurs the boundary between the victim and aggressor. It is evident that Soo-hyun becomes blind because of his desire for revenge. Thus, he begins to suffer from the psychological split.

Technical Peculiarities of the Movie

The film is beautifully shot by the talented Jee-woon Kim and it underlines that Korean cinema does not lag behind the world one. The filmmakers use low, straight-on, and high angles to depict all events. Moreover, vibrant and lush colors make spontaneous revenge tactics and murders look more pleasant than the depiction of the blood. It means that the cinematography is unique as the ways of shooting the scenes make them memorable for spectators. Moreover, the audience can have the continuous 260-degree shot of the actions that makes them more exciting and realistic. The cinematography of this movie is complicated as the filmmakers manipulate with the camera to depict all events as realistic as possible.

Further, beautiful cinematography contributes to the excellence of the movie because it contrasts the dark, dimly lit scenes where the murders and fight scenes occur. Furthermore, the camera work is effective because due to close-ups, the viewers can see the facial expressions of the protagonists that tell more than dialogue. Soo-hyun’s expression is stoic and clean, and Chou’s one is madly expressive and filthy.

Another technique used by the filmmakers is a space that also influences the representation of the movie. They manipulate with camera lenses, set design, and lighting to change the proportions, size, and depth of the objects and places (Corrigan, 2011). Moreover, zoom shot is applied to depict the actions of the main characters and focus attention on their feelings and emotions.

The composition of the film I Saw the Devil is sophisticated as it combines the elements of thriller, horror film, psychological drama, and crime. Such a mixture of genres provides some ambiguity and difficulty in understanding the characters’ actions. The set design of this film changes according to the event depicted. This movie has emotional, psychological, social, and physical significance. For example, while depicting the girl killed in snow, the filmmakers want to show her purity and innocence.

The set design of the film I Saw the Devil is direct. It means that the filmmakers do not try to hide the unpleasant scenes, making the viewers uncomfortable and bringing their mind to the dark and cruel reality. Such brutal realism is the way of the violation of the criminal justice and psychological problems that prevent people from happy and rewarding life. As a result, the set design is based on blood and torture (Baldock, 2012).

The setting of this film is based on the narrative. It means that the filmmakers have chosen the location and background typical for horror movies. The mood and the ambiance of the setting create the diverse meanings for the audience as the filmmakers change the locations of their characters (Corrigan, 2011). Moreover, lighting of the film I Saw the Devil is changeable, according to the event depicted. It helps to influence the audience’s understanding of characters’ behavior. For example, murdering or abuse is accompanied by darkness and gloomy colors to create the necessary atmosphere. The filmmakers apply fast motion to show that the movie is dynamic (Baldock, 2012). In such a way, they also want to underline the diversity of characters and problems violated in this film. One should also mention that even costumes of characters, which are black and dark, underline that the film is difficult and controversial.

In this film, the events are presented chronologically; the filmmakers do not use such editing techniques as flashbacks or flash-forwards. It means that filmmakers do not manipulate with time due to the complexity and moral difficulty of the depicted actions and personalities. However, there are many cutaways as the elements of editing in this movie. They do not reinforce any events but help to avoid the long sequences of the events. Moreover, the filmmakers apply crosscutting to depict the action that occurs at the same time but in different locations. It helps the viewers to switch their attention from one character to another.

Moreover, it is worth noting the sound design of the file. The sound design refers to the manipulation by audio elements to make the sounds of scream, crying, and shouting as realistic as possible. The sound design of the film I Saw the Devil helps to evoke emotions and reflect the mood. The peculiarity of this film is the use of direct diegetic sounds that help to perceive the events and react to them adequately.

Finally, one should say that the choice of the main characters is also crucial for film success. As a result, Lee and Choi did a magnificent job. Choi is convincing portraying his character shifting from calmness and happiness to a manic anger. Lee’s character is less expressive, and he shows his emotions through the subtle body movements and eyes. However, the performance of both actors is worth admiration.


One should say that the film I Saw the Devil is not only the horror movie provoking fear, anxiety, and disgust but also a criminal and psychological one. The plot, events, and characters of the film I Saw the Devil prove that horror movies can raise serious problems that are alarming for the community. The plot of this film is not sophisticated, but every detail helps to understand the psychology of the characters in depth. Moreover, its chronological depiction simplifies the process of the perception of the depicted events. The choice of characters is based on the opposition of evil and good, light and dark, cruelty and kind-heartedness. However, the controversial point in this movie is that good does not win evil. It means that the filmmakers do not apply the stereotypical life events but those that provoke ambiguous feelings. The problems raised in this movie refer to the psychological issues, the imperfection of the criminal justice system, and the inability of people to cope with the feeling of revenge.

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