If You Love ‘Oldboy,’ You Need To Check out This Underseen Revenge Thriller


The Big Picture

  • Kim Jee-woon’s
    I Saw the Devil
    is an underrated revenge film that tackles its themes of violence on an epic scale.
  • The film not only serves as a satisfying revenge thriller but also provokes questions and presents violence in a new light.
  • The movie explores the impact of violence and revenge, making viewers question the necessity and persistence of such behavior.

Kim Jee-woon has created some of the most cathartic yet psychologically damaging films ever, and the latter is not a negative remark by any means. His filmography ranges in terms of tonal shifts, but he always manages to tackle deeply personal issues in a brilliantly slick fashion. Whether it be an exciting Western with The Good, the Bad, and the Weird or a comedic sports film like The Foul King, he and his creative team always tackle the themes of the story on an epic scale. Many of his films serve their stories and characters well, but one film in particular stands above the rest. Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil is one of the best revenge films out there — and it deserves more attention. Revenge films have been a much-loved area of the film industry for years, but few of them reach the emotional and cerebral heights of Kim’s feature. I Saw the Devil not only serves its function as a satisfying revenge thriller, but it also manages to provoke questions and present violence in a new light. Rather than give viewers all the answers, it leaves those wanting more purposefully, and its depiction of violence is grotesque for a variety of reasons.

I Saw the Devil

A secret agent exacts revenge on a serial killer through a series of captures and releases.

Release Date
August 12, 2010

Jee-woon Kim

Byung-hun Lee , Gook-hwan Jeon , Ho-jin Jeon , San-ha Oh , Yoon-seo Kim , Min-sik Choi


Main Genre

Written and Directed by Kim Jee-woon.

Hoon-jung. Park

What Is ‘I Saw the Devil’ About?

Kim Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) is the protagonist of the story, who is reeling from the loss of his fiancée (Oh San-ha). The pain is felt by several supporting characters, but Kim Soo-hyun is the audience’s eyes and ears. He eventually takes a two-week break from his work at the National Intelligence Service, as he starts chasing and torturing potential suspects. Not only is he ambushing these criminals and scarring them, but he ensures they are left with some sort of mark or similar sense of agony that he is feeling. Here lies a character viewers are meant to root for, and yet his harmful actions feel almost as sickening as the villains. The primary antagonist is Jang Kyung-chul (played by Choi Min-sik), who is a murderous school bus driver. He is repeatedly beaten to a pulp and cut up by Kim, but he soon begins putting the pieces together and finds ways to fight back. It starts as a catch-and-release situation, and then over time, when twists and turns unfold, evolves into a cat-and-mouse chase.

Kim Jee-woon Deconstructs the Revenge Thriller With ‘I Saw the Devil’

Kim Jee-woon takes the screenplay from writer Park Hoon-jung, and captures the essence of the story flawlessly. The film is pulsating from scene to scene, filled with action-packed sequences as well as the blood and gore horror fans would crave. It almost serves as a twisted crime saga with the hunter angle, but deep down this film is an exploration of violence. Kim Soo-hyun appears to be a rational human being, who audiences can sympathize with and ultimately cheer for once the fighting begins. However, the film plays into the effect such violence and horror has on the person who commits it.


10 Movies to Watch If You Loved ‘Oldboy’

More tales of revenge, mystery, and violence.

The film, along with all the blood and gore, is a mirror of many other issues permeating society. Consumers are obsessed with true crime stories, serial killers, and all sorts of disturbing subjects. When a film like this captures the realistic nature of decapitation, or even slicing someone’s ankle, it’s nothing short of nauseating. Now, it is crucial to point out that the film is not merely created to gross people out, because there is clearly a stronger social commentary at play. Whether intentional or not, it seems as if this is partially ridiculing how absurd revenge films are, and how the concept of them and a viewer’s lust for torture porn is not meant to be seen in a positive light. Yes, the arts can create this release in various ways, but the obsession with violent content seems to play a part in the constant cycle of violence. The film by no means places blame on the audience, because, if anything, the film is ridiculously entertaining and invites viewers to question even the hero.

How Does Choi Min-sik’s Character Compare to ‘Oldboy’s Oh Dae-su?

Choi was a phenomenal lead in Park Chan-wook‘s 2003 classic Oldboy, which is still arguably the best revenge film ever made. In Oldboy, he plays the protagonist who is held captive for several years, and once freed, he must bulk up and fight his adversaries. Of course, it is only natural the film comes with twists and turns to shock the audience; but more than anything, they also recontextualize what the audience has witnessed. Park’s masterpiece, adapted from the manga, is assessing its characters fairly and not necessarily judging their actions. Choi’s character starts as a meandering buffoon, who stumbles along until he is forced back into the world after his capture. This is where he finds a reason to fight again because he is determined to return to his family and right the wrongs. He is a flawed character, but he remains our hero right to the end.

In Kim’s film, he plays the inverse of this character — a ruthless serial killer with very little remorse or fear. This is a man with a lust for blood, and he is not afraid at all to escalate the situation. Once he starts wising up to Kim’s plan, he eventually decides to take matters into his own hands, which results in going after his adversary’s family. He also befriends a couple of cannibals (played by Choi Moo-sung and Kim In-seo), who take part in looking to destroy Kim as well. His own love of violence clashes with Kim’s endeavors, and so this endless cycle of bloodshed continues. Choi crafts a character who relishes in what he does, which is why it makes him all the more terrifying and emotionally detached. Through its effective characterization, I Saw the Devil makes its audience bloodthirsty, but then makes them question if the violence and gore is worth it. Kim’s and Jang’s dynamic certainly is entertaining to see unfold, and yet deep down the film uncovers the emotional damage this endless feud brings.

I Saw the Devil might be a bit too much for some to handle, but rarely does a film tackle violent content with as much style or consideration. This is an extravagant bloodbath with all the gore any horror fan could ask for, and yet what will stick with viewers is the impact left by the emptiness people have. Whether it be the absent-minded nature of some or lack of empathy, this is a haunting film where it asks why all of this is necessary in the first place, or why humans must be so persistent about getting revenge on another. For a film where the two main characters exhibit sociopathic tendencies, viewers will definitely connect with what is happening, because somehow beneath all the blood and guts there is some truth.

I Saw the Devil is available to watch on Hulu in the U.S.



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