I Saw the Devil
Coverage by Nobuhiro Hosoki
Story : Lee Byung-hyun (The Good, the Bad and the Weird) stars as Dae-hoon, a special agent whose pregnant wife becomes the latest victim of a disturbed and brutal serial killer, captivatingly played by Oldboy's Choi Min-sik. Vowing revenge, Dae-hoon blurs the lines between hunter and hunted and good and evil, eventually becoming a monster himself in his twisted pursuit of revenge.
Interview with director Jee-woon Kim
(Q): I heard that this is your first screenplay that you’ve not written. What made you involved in this project?
(Kim Jee-woon) : The script was very raw and powerful, a very forceful kind of script, and when I read I felt like it threw a very strong punch. Although it was a little rough around the edges I felt that if it was framed within the framework of a noir or a thriller kind of film that it would work really well, and that’s really what brought me into this project.
(Q) : One of the fascinating things about this movie was that the killer didn’t feel any remorse or any regret. So, in order to macth-up with this killer, the Byung-hun Lee character is actually sort of steps up to sell his soul to the devil.
(Kim Jee-woon) : There’s a very strong passage in a Nietzsche’s book “Beyond Good and Evil” that says “he who hunts the monster must be careful not to become the monster himself.” I was thinking that this was a very strong concept that I immediately thought that it could become the framework for this film. We see the Byung-hun Lee character work so hard to exact the same revenge upon the Min-sik Choi character, and when the audience sees this, while in the beginning they might wish for the revenge to be exacted upon very quickly, at one point they see how long it’s dragging out and kind of become wary of the character.
They kind of take a step back and see what he’s becoming; he’s becoming a devil. And because the story itself is about this tragic, very sad, very desperate revenge that the character takes, he’s in this inescapable situation where he must become the devil to defeat the devil because that’s the center of the story. I think people respond to that in a strong way and that’s what’s at the center of the film.
(Q) : I was curious that the killer, played by Min-sik Choi, driving a school bus as an occupation. Why did you make that choice of driving a bus? Any student could have been a victim previously, but he wasn’t killed until the girlfriend got killed in the beginning. So how did you make that decision?
(Kim Jee-woon) : I was actually researching one of these serial killers in Korean history and I found out that at one point in their lives they were a bus driver. I wouldn’t say it was a complete career for this person but I wanted to emphasize this kind of duality where you see something is different in day and night, and this would be the day portion. So I thought that maybe if he’s in some kind of stable kind of part-time job it would be an interesting dichotomy to his nighttime activities. Maybe his daytime is a little different from what he does at night. I’m not sure how it is in Western countries, but in Korea at least the color yellow is associated with…you see preschool uniforms in yellow.
(Q) : So is Japan.
(Kim Jee-woon) : Right, so those were the kinds of things I was evoking, this kind of peaceful innocent youth to make the contrast between the night and day. And also there are elements of that bus that I could use to highlight this kind of absurdity and irony of the situation because on the back of the bus there’s a wording that says something like “student safety vehicle” or “student safety transportation” or something like that. It’s even more heightening that kind of ironic situation, this absurd situation of this very scary person in this someone seemingly peaceful kind of environment. Those were the kind of dichotomies that I wanted to work in and I thought that the school bus would be a nice way to visually do that.
(Q): It’s a great choice, actually.
(Kim Jee-woon) : Because this isn’t a formal school, it’s kind of like for after school studies and stuff like that, so for something like that you don’t really need any special certifications or anything to do these jobs. As long as you know how to drive and you’re a regular guy you tend to be able to get these kinds of easier jobs I guess, and this would be one of those things. So it’s not where there’s a great approval process so it’s something that he obviously got very easily.
(Q): Could you talk about the casting? You casted Byung-hun Lee twice. Could you talk about casting Byung-hun Lee and also Min-sik Choi? They have a great contrast between them.
(Kim Jee-woon) : Min-sik Choi is one of the most energetic actors in cinema, and Lee Byung-hun, especially in working with me in some of those films he’s one of the actors that can bring a very nuanced performance. Before working with him he was considered a romantic kind of character.
(Q): He actually appeared in Japanese tv and always played a handsome, cool guy or a romantic guy.
(Kim Jee-woon) : So by working with me we kind of were able to see a different kind of that actor and the nuanced cold performances that he can do. People who know these two actors or are familiar with them suggested that this film is a collision of that Min-sik Choi character in "Old Boy" and Byung-hun Lee character in “Bittersweet Life” colliding together on screen. We see a very fury, kind of fiery madman collide and crash with a very icy cold madman. I think as a director, as a film person, I was interested in seeing the energy and the mood that can be possible in them being on screen, and I think a lot of the audience was also excited to see those two kind of opposing forces collide on screen and I think they drew some satisfaction from that as well.
(Q) : It’s quite great choices. I heard that initially you had trouble releasing the film in your mother country because of the strong content. Was that true? Did you cut any of the film?
(Kim Jee-woon):The most controversial scenes were probably the cannibalism, when he’s eating the human meat. Some scenes where we see severed limbs by themselves detached from the body, and the moment when we see the Achilles heel being cut off. In Korea that moment was shown only to the point where the knife goes in, but we don’t see it actually come off in the Korean and Japanese version of this film. And also in general a lot of the final acts to the most extreme degree of violent action the ends were cut off so that you see the start but you don’t see the finishing action of a violent action.
When the film first was released in Korea I said in interviews that it’s like eating sushi without having the right amount of wasabi. With the international cut I was able to keep those in and keep it as a whole movie, and I think international audiences will be able to get a different kind of satisfaction having the whole movie as I intended it to be.
(Q): After you made your debut film what has been changing in Korean cinema during this period?
(Kim Jee-woon) : I think it has a lot to do with the political view and the environment of the nation. Moving from almost a dictatorship at one point of history into a democracy many people and many citizens were very excited about becoming a democratic society and a lot of that was also expressed and supported in film. So we saw a lot of people going in that direction and making good work. I think the kim Dae-jung presidency was probably one of the more notable ones that really started this support financially and politically for more films and more expressive filmmaking. I think that was a good time when a lot of these good projects were able to come through.