South Korean filmmaker brings diabolic tale to US

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The Independent Culture

South Korean director Kim Ji-woon says his latest film, "I saw the Devil," is a study in evil he hopes will strike a chord with US audiences as much as it did in his homeland.

About a man seeking violent revenge against a serial killer for slaying his pregnant girlfriend, the movie tells how, "to win over evil, the main character has to become evil hismelf," he said.

"This is the first script I didn't write myself," said the 46-year-old, an established filmmaker in South Korea, on the eve of the film's opening in the United States this weekend.

"There was not any specific news that drew me to this story, but there was a time where there were major serial killers in Korea," he told AFP in Los Angeles.

Kim is known for trying his hand at a range of film types, from horror flicks like "A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) to action movies like 2005's "A Bittersweet Life" and "The Good, the Bad and the Weird" (2008).

This time he gets his teeth into a thriller, in the form of a secret agent bent on revenging his lover's death by causing her killer as much pain as possible before killing him.

"I've always been interested in crossing many genres and especially for this film I was interested in thriller, which has a very distinctive visual style," he said.

The film has already done the tour of international film festivals, from Toronto to San Sebastian, and was at the Sundance independent movie fest in January.

Stunningly beautiful from the opening scene - riding in a car on a snowy night, to the sound of melancholy guitar - it nevertheless pulls no punches in depicting violence, sometimes with almost unbearable detail.

Far from showing his main character compassionately, as a hero avenging a wrong, Kim draws him as an exterminating angel who will only find peace after killing the monster who took his gilfriend's life in the cruelest possible way.

The film has been very well received in Asia, which the director believes is due to the psychological depth which enriches a fairly classic man-hunt type thriller.

He insists he only realized the depths as he worked on the movie.

"As a film, as a story there is a chance to make something very much more complete and much more in depth with that kind of emotional and psychological tension, much more so than the pure visual or the action," he said.

"What I was trying to get in the film was that in order to win over evil, the main character has to become evil himself. I wanted to really work this very kind of tragic chase and process of revenge."

The South Korean director, with a movie opening in the US, cites a giant of European philosophy - Nietzsche - to encapsulate the fundamental message behind the film.

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you," he said, citing the German father of nihilism.