BLU-RAY REVIEWS: I Saw the Devil & Black Death
Two dark, morbid new films hit home video thanks to Magnet...
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Magnet, the genre branch of Magnolia Films dedicated to horror, action, and Asian cinema, continues to bring an amazing assortment of film to home video in 2011, including two recently released films which will have fans of though-provoking, haunting and down right violent films take notice: director Jee-woon Kim's Korean visceral, violent and shocking I Saw the Devil and Christopher Smith's haunting, religious action drama Black Death.
I Saw the Devil
Directed by Jee-woon Kim (The Good, The Bad and The Weird) from a script by freshmen writer Hoon-jung Park, I Saw the Devil tells a riveting revenge tale reminiscent of classics like Straw Dogs, Oldboy, and Memento.
Special police agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee, The Good, The Bad and The Weird)) finds out his pregnant fiance has been viciously murdered by Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi, Oldboy), a troubled spree-killer living two lives. Agent Kim will - with the help of his fiance's father (a former police chief) and a few high-tech tools - begin a catch-and-release game of cat-and-mouse to make things right. But what happens when right is wrong, vengeance replaces justice, and forgiveness is impossible?
I Saw the Devil isn't so much watched as experienced. Now, I know a lot of reviewers say this about a film that features a beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and epic in its construction. Me, I simply say it when I watch a film that makes me lose my lunch.
That's right; it only took the first 10 minutes of this 141 minute bloodfest before I was gagging and, by the 40 minutes mark, I was tempted to turn it off for fear throwing up. And yes, I couldn't take my eyes away. It's not that I knew my peers would laugh at me for walking away from the film or that I was afraid to be called weak, but because I was emotionally invested in the engaging characters which seemed so genuine and real.
Unlike any other film I've seen before, I Saw the Devil thrusts you into the lives of the main characters and forces you to confront not only their emotions and actions, but your own as well. Throughout the film, I found myself wondering not only what I'd do in a specific circumstance, but how much more viscous I'd be were it me in the same circumstance.
The film itself features some of the most grotesque violence put on celluloid, and yet the filmmakers do it not with malicious intent, but instead tempt viewers to imagine themselves seeking justice and then revenge for the death of their love and future. Handled both maturely and with a sharp eye that's just as dangerous as any of the weapons used throughout, the violence here isn't over the top or unnecessary; it's simply what can and no doubt has happened and will unfortunately and sadly happen again.
The 1080p video transfer is gorgeous with sharp contrast, bold colors and ominous darks which fill the screen and come to life. The film's natural progression and the main character's emotional turmoil are clear and evident in the environments and clothing throughout, again brought to life thanks to the brilliant video transfer. Likewise, the film has solid audio thanks to the the original Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. A second 5.1 Master Audio English dub track is also provided, but falls well short of the original (as with most dubs). While a solid majority of the film's audio is delivered via the front speakers, the rear speakers receive attention from the unique soundtrack as well as the occasional fight/car scene.
As for special features, the blu-ray features only two: 20+ minutes of deleted scenes (some of which were cut out of this release from the original International release) and a 27 minute "Raw and Rough: Behind the Scenes of I Saw the Devil" making of featurette. For its length, the featurette is great, with a look at how a number of the fight scenes were filmed and a good number of interviews with the film's cast and crew.
While it's obviously not for everyone, I can't emphasize enough how truly impressive this film is. Unrelenting in its bloody violence and viciousness, uncompromising in its character development and depth, and down right amazing in its acting, directing and score; I Saw the Devil is one of the best films I've seen in years and, while it's obviously not for everyone, for those who watch it in its entirety, it'll set a new standard for film making.
I Saw the Devil is available now wherever fine home video is sold.
We first posted a story about Black Death last December (HERE) and, while we knew little about the film itself, we knew the poster looked cool. Now, six months later, we've come to realize the film too is something to admire and appreciate.
Set in 1348 Britain at the onset of one of the worst plagues in human history, Black Death follows a Christian envoy called upon by the Catholic Bishop to weed out witchcraft, sorcery and evil throughout the land. Ulric (the always impressive Sean Bean, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and his menacing band of religious heathens are tasked with investigating a small village where it seems none suffer from the plague. They need a guide and thus enters a young monk-in-training, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne, The Other Boleyn Girl) who's having a slight crisis of faith. The band sets out to find this supposedly cursed (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) village and find answers. Along the way, the group faces villainous thieves, sickness, and betrayal from within. Of course, it gets no easier when the group finds the village in question and learns all is not what it seems.
While Sean Bean is the headliner here and exceptional as always, it's Eddie Redmayne as Osmund and a number of the other supporting actors, including Tim McInnerny as Hob, Andy Nyman as Dalywag, John Lynch as Wolfstan and the rest of Ulric's band of rapists, murders, thieves and miscreants who truly impress. These no-names are fodder for the blades of their enemies and yet, they not only present personality (shallow though it may be) but they make you care with their actions and presence. They may not be heaven-bound, but they'll stop at nothing to ensure God's will (or so they believe).
Likewise, Carice van Houten plays Langiva, the head of the plague-less village, perfectly, impressing with not only her screen presence, but also her control of nearly every scene she's in. She's impossible not to notice and truly a sight in a white gown (a color rarely seen in this film).
While the film's main purpose is to entertain and help us escape for 97 minutes, there are blatant jabs at modern organized religion and belief in anything outside of oneself. Likewise, there are a number of scenes which demonstrate the lengths to which some will go to ensure their beliefs - and no others - are those believed by all. While this isn't necessarily a Christian belief, the clear purpose and focus these medieval Christian warriors have to cleanse evil from the land makes it clear screenwriter Dario Poloni's stance.
The 1080p video transfer is purposely dark, grainy and blemished. Intentionally done this way by director Smith, this still gives film viewers plenty to complain about when it comes to scenes which look soft or gritty. Thankfully, this grittiness compliments the drab gray color palette of the film. A solid DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track captures the clashing of swords and shields, the bashing of bone and flesh, the shrieking of supposed otherworldly beings, and the wilderness which provides much of a backdrop for the film.
As for special features, Black Death includes 4 short deleted scenes, a short featurette entitled "Bringing Black Death to Life," which provides behind-the-scenes footage and brief interviews with cast and crew; 30+ minutes of interviews with cast and crew, including in-depth talks with director Smith, producer Phil Robertson, producer Jens Meurer and actors Sean Bean, Carice Van Houten, Eddie Redmayne, Kimberley Nixon, Emun Elliott, Andy Nyman, John Lynch, Johnny Harris, and Tim McInnerny. Other special features include 10+ minutes of on-set footage (not seen in the featurette), a 4 minute "HDNet: A Look at Black Death, and the film's theatrical trailer.
While maybe more of an atmospheric action drama than an all-out horror film, Black Death certainly includes horrifying things. The violence isn't subdued in any way and filmmakers do an outstanding job of making everything as realistic as possible. A true period piece that'll have film viewers thanking God they live today and NOT in medieval Britain during the plague, Black Death features an intriguing plot, exciting action, a dramatic story and plenty of solid acting.
Black Death is available now wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley