Although “Devil” opens with a snow-filled scene shown in the South Korean film’s trailer, viewers’ nerves are on alert nonetheless from frame one as we await the stunningly inevitable: the murder of a pregnant woman stranded on the roadside by the serial killer Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi, “Oldboy”).
The madman may have picked wisely out of location, which is the middle of nowhere, but poorly given her fiancé, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”), a secret service agent who vows at her grave to make the killer pay for her pain, with revenge that is both “real” and “true.”
Taking two weeks off, he goes about his mission of vengeance, focusing on the cops’ four likely suspects. Whether or not they’re the one who took his beloved, he’ll hurt them. Clearly, the agent has a death wish — or a “Death Wish,” one might say, except his targets are far from random.
Soo-hyeon finds Kyung-chul rather easily, and quickly overpowers him, only to choose not to kill the bastard. Instead, he decides to dole out a rather protracted punishment, to turn the tables so that Kyung-chul will know what it feels like when the predator becomes the prey. Soo-hyeon aims to toy with him … but what if he has underestimated the inherent evil of his playmate?
“Devil” is staggeringly good, alive with color, tension and dread. So much was I reminded of the start-to-finish unsafe vibe emanated by David Fincher’s “Seven,” I’m tempted to call it a masterpiece among crime films. Like “Seven,” it’s not for the easily offended or grossed-out.
And as strong a constitution as I have for depictions of violence (it’s all make-believe, after all), a couple of scenes are so are unflinching, even I winced. Plus, there’s a bathroom scene that’s more disgusting than the one in “Trainspotting.”
The two leads are fabulous, but director Jee-woon Kim is the star. Working from a brilliant script by first-timer (!) Hoon-jung Park, he steers “Devil” with precision at every turn. And the ride is a lengthy one at nearly two and a half hours. As flashy as his visuals were in his previous outing, “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” they can only take you so far without a story to match. Here, there’s no such problem; it may feel like an epic, but not a chore. Rather, it’s an absolute pleasure.
“Revenge is for movies,” Soo-hyeon is told, and this one’s absolute dynamite. —Rod Lott