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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…