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The Battle of Evils

Jim-Woon Kim’s I saw the Devil, or Akmareul boatda (original title), presents two versions of evil. The first is a horrific monster that kills for pure pleasure. He has no mercy: killing the elderly, pregnant, and even small children. His evil is so pure that it corrupts the “hero” of the story, played by Byung-hun Lee, who makes it his sole purpose to seek vengeance on the murderer who killed his wife.

Kim’s version of evil is one of the darkest shades displayed on film. His monsters are not human; they have no hearts, they contain no souls. When a bloody, bleeding, pregnant woman begs for mercy, he clubs her in the head. When the young nurse cries for modesty, the monster punches her with a shattered wrist. He is desensitized from what everyone knows as right and wrong. No longer just a Christian dissection, his evil transcends culture. Every culture teaches that pregnant women are extremely vulnerable, and should never be killed. They are out of bounds, never deserving a harsh, brutal death. The same with children: their innocence protects them from ever deserving a cruel murder.

The other evil that Kim examines in I Saw the Devil is the slow corruption of the hero. His wife is destroyed by an utter monster, and Lee’s character is consumed for the rest of the film on destroying the murderer himself. An old lesson learned from Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo: revenge corrupts. The audience watches as Lee becomes a monster himself. Not caring for others, wanting, and craving to extract just as much pain as the monster he is hunting. In the end, he makes the villain’s family come and kill the man while he listens on headphones while calmly walking away. Where does the “hero” go? He is not the same man that was introduced in the beginning of the film: a man who sings sweetly to his wife over the phone, or worries about her flat tire in a snow storm. His shade of evil comes not in just killing the beast, but continually making him get up, giving him the cash to go and get fixed up so that he can torture him again. He replaces the evil that he spent the entire film destroying.

In utter contrast, another take on evil is the film Bronson, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. In Bronson, the audience is introduced to Charles Bronson: a man that society has labeled a deviant, and monster. Refn places the audience in Bronson’s head, revealing the logic and thought process of a man deserving a life-long sentence in prison. While in the head of the beast, the director presents a man who is bad … but not really that bad. It is witnessed that Bronson is prone to violence; it is what he loves and wants. He craves attention and recognition, admitting multiple times that he craves infamy. How does he do it? He decides that the way to make his name famous is to become the most violent prisoner in London. He fights police officers, punches teachers, steals, gets into fights with dogs; Bronson chooses to become the opposite of how society dictates citizens should behave.

An actual quote from Bronson about the making of the film: “I’m proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on. I make no bones about it, I really was… a horrible, violent, nasty man. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either…” It separates him from society, but, not from the human race.

Throughout Bronson, Refn shows tender moments that slightly redeem the beast: the only person that he ever wants to kill is the child molester, and actually never achieves in killing anyone. Bronson reacts to his fear and loneliness from thirty years of solitary by taking multiple people hostage throughout the film—but never hurts his captured. He scares them a little bit with his yelling and eccentric monologues, but only battles the armored police when they try to contain him. Tender scenes of his breakdowns show Bronson’s inner struggle with his failure at acquiring fame, and reveal that the person he is most violent and harsh to, is himself. A man trapped by his misguided goals.

The entire film shows the insides of Bronson’s brain: how utterly real, and human he is. Bronson’s actual crimes include stealing a ring for the love of a woman, and the theft of money to pay for his child. Theft is against the law and considered a sin—and he is guilty of everything charges against him in the court of law. Does it make his evils less evil? No. But they do make his evils a little more forgivable. The audience is constantly reminded of his humanity, and in the end, when he is seen in the squashed cage, mashed like an animal harvested for fur, it is realized that even the “bad guy” that has been developed over a lifetime does not deserve this punishment.

Devil depicts how inhuman monsters are, and how poignantly evil of that degree corrupts. Kim’s monster is not kind to people who aren’t his victims: he talks down to the doctor, and kills the pharmacist. Begins to rape the nurse—and that’s when he is not on the hunt. Based on a very physical evil, Devil represents exactly that: a human devil. Bronson is a psychological evil—he partakes in unlawful activity, and earns a lifetime in prison, but it is never forgotten that he is man. Unlike Kim’s Devil, Refn’s Bronson ends the film with his “monster” still open for the concept of forgiveness. The Devil in Devil deserves no such kindness, his repetition of merciless slayings guarantee that only death at the hands of the hero offer any sort of hope. Killing the monster leaves corrupted, bloodied hands on the “hero,” and his cruel methodic game of cat and mouse with the beast leave him far from the notion of “good.” Kim ends his film with his protagonist just as unforgivable as his antagonist, a lesson in the corruption of an innocent heart that goes too far to acquire justice.