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“I Saw the Devil,” Reviewed

“I Saw the Devil,” Reviewed (photo)

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Torture porn may have run its course in American cinema, but it’s alive and (mentally un)well in South Korea, a country whose brutal horror movies in recent years put ours to shame. The Koreans are kicking our butts when it comes to horror with both brains and guts. I’m referring to two different kinds of guts, by the way: the gooey, gunky, bloody kind of guts and the brave-enough-to-push-and-provoke-an-audience kind of guts. “I Saw the Devil” isn’t quite torture porn but it takes all of the core elements of that subgenre — graphic, sadistic violence, fundamental questions about decency and morality — and spins them into something better: entertaining, thought-provoking, and scary as hell.

The film begins on a snowy night on a lonely stretch of road where a vicious killer named Kyung-chul (“Oldboy”‘s Choi Min-sik) finds and then kills a stranded female motorist. As he drags her body away, the victim’s blood stains the snow a deep shade of crimson. Innocence has been spoiled, once and forever, and there’s no going back. That’s because Kyung-chul’s victim had a fiance and unfortunately for him he’s a special agent named Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun, best known to American audiences as Storm Shadow in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”). Soo-hyun works as a spy, reporting to the man who would have been his father-in-law; he gives Soo-hyun the fiance’s case file, announces he’s going on a vacation, and leaves his son-in-law alone to find his justice by any means necessary.

Eventually, Soo-hyun does track down Kyung-chul, but his thirst for revenge won’t let him just kill him. Instead, he begins stalking Kyung-chul, following as he searches for new victims. Whenever Kyung-chul’s about to strike, Soo-hyun interrupts, leaving him some new bruises and a serious case of serial killer blue balls. Kyung-chul recovers and the process begins all over again.

As this bloody dance between the two characters escalates, the film really begins to take off. Director Kim Jee-woon, who made “A Tale of Two Sisters” and last year’s crackling “kimchi western” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” knows how to manipulate an audience. He’s not interested in making a classic cat-and-mouse chase where the outcome and the viewer’s allegiance is never in doubt. Instead he creates a sort of cat-and-equally-scary-cat scenario, and invites us to react as we see fit. Kyung-chul is an unrepentant, inhuman murderer. But Soo-hyn’s not much better. So who do you side with? You can’t even really root for humanity in general, since almost every character in “I Saw the Devil” turns out to be a psychopathic killer, right down to the random taxi driver who picks up a hitchhiking Kyung-chul and just happens to have a dead body in the trunk of his car.

Jee-woon’s not the first guy to hypothesize that a man might have to become a monster in order to defeat a monster. But with the film’s unrelenting pacing and visceral action sequences, there’s very little time to dwell on the clichés. Just as he did in “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” Jee-woon nails that irresistible mix of compelling characters and inventive fight and chase choreography. He’s also uncommonly good at building interesting worlds for his deranged heroes and villains to do battle in: the Eastern Western frontier of “The Good, The Bad, The Weird” and now the dark, sinister landscape of “I Saw the Devil,” all remote houses in the woods, empty nighttime roads, and menacing meat lockers. This movie makes a very strong argument for vegetarianism.

Jee-woon starts from a place we have seen before — somewhere between “Saw” and “Death Wish” — but the journey from there is uniquely his. His two leads are perfect foils for one another. One’s homely, the other’s handsome, but both are equally terrifying, an obvious but effective statement on the way that evil comes in all shapes and sizes. So do movies, but most aren’t this good.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.