Lets enjoy a little bit of a DISGUST.
Oldboy (2003) told its tragedy apparently in accordance with Greek dramatic theory. I Saw the Devil (2010) does similar thing, with variations. The tragedy of the innocent soul lead astray by ignorance is here overshadowed by the shock of the brutal death of the innocent.
(Above, I only drew a few connections to other figures and stories examining the human brutality, conscience, and desire for revenge.)
The basic story of the hero’s path of vengeance certainly indicates the original structure of a tragedy. The hero looses more than he could ever gain by fulfilling his promise given to a dead girl, and by his own mistakes brings doom upon himself.
And then Kyung-chul (google yourself) bashes a girl into the head by a leaden pipe.
What does this tell us
We face a dilema here. We can accept the brutality in the film only as a harmless play, adjust the suspension of our disbelief (IN OTHER WORDS simply say ‘it’s just a film’). Another possible option is to accept the film as a serious moral challenge, after all, the morality extends into the realm of the imagined, as well as over the reality. In that case, you probably need to stop watching the film and buzz yourself up by some internet shopping, or a coke in the store across the road (in the improbable case that you went for IStD to a CINEMA). Also, you could deny what the film showed and try to quickly forget everything.
The miracle of world’s wisdom called ‘film-fan’ would probably unleash the most searing disdain to damn the two latter options as completely insane, or at least absolutely outdated christian misconceptions.(1)
Never mind. In fact, the dilema parallels the situation of agent Kim executing his revenge plan. The further we allow ourselves to go, the less sensitive and shocked we become by the violence, gore and madness.
No, watching a film does not turn you into a massacrator. I am saying that I Saw the Devil transfers the basic paradox of its plot (the violence affects the aggressor more than the victim) onto the experience of its own viewing. It is not only the mere roughness and intensity of the image that tests our taste and laxity. We are forced to decide for ourselves wheather we accept the film as a statement or not.
The ancient tragedy may be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. The difference of two thousand years is the challenge of voluntary watching.
(This article might sound like stating the obvious. Written out thoughts often do, so do not go too hard with it.)
1. Here I am not talking about the inner working of religion, the state of religion in today’s society or anything similar to that. I refer towards its ethymological meaning ‘to follow’ (without a doubt) certain idol or idea closely related to purity and absolute moral system.