A contest of atrocities
Vengeance is the engine that has driven strong dramas right from the beginning, and when the movies came along it found a fertile new field. If the theme were removed from genres like the American Western or the Chinese martial arts film, there wouldn’t be too much left.
But in recent years it has been Korean film-makers who have adopted the revenge plot and taken it to ferocious extremes that probably would have appalled John Ford or Chang Cheh.
I SAW THE DEVIL (Akmareul boatda, Korea, 2010, colour) directed by Kim Ji-woon and starring Lee Byung-hun, Choi Minsik, Jeon Gook-hwan and Jeon Ho-jin. In Korean with optional English and Korean subtitles, 144 and 142 minutes. Extras include alternative versions of the film, the Korean theatrical version (144 min) and the international version (142 min) as well as an unsubtitled 140-minute third disc of interviews, documentaries, and other supplementary material). (The version reviewed here is Region 3, NTSC. There is also a Blu-Ray edition of this set, and the film has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the USA and in Europe).
It was Park Chan-wook’s trilogy of vengeance-themed movies that brought the Korean take on the idea (and probably Korean cinema in general) to international attention. The second of them, Oldboy, has become a cult favourite in the West, although many viewers have found the level of violence in all three of them to be excessive.