Saturday, 25 November 2017

Alternate Best Actor 2010: Byung-hun Lee in I Saw the Devil

Byung-hun Lee did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Soo-hyun Kim in I Saw the Devil.

The first time I watched I Saw the Devil I took very strongly to Min-sik Choi's performance as the central villain Kyung-chul, a serial killer who randomly targets the fiancee of Lee's secret service agent Soo-hyun Kim, and perhaps took Byung-hun Lee's performance somewhat for granted. On re-watches though I noticed my mistake in this, and the brilliance of the pairing of Choi and Lee, perhaps the two most talented Korean actors. The reason being they are such opposites in style and frankly everything else, though similair in their considerable talent. Where Choi certainly does not have the look of the traditional leading man, and his very flamboyant energetic performer, Lee on the other hand is very much the traditional leading man however with a very particular often restrained approach to his roles. These two provide for a most fascinating dynamic as we have Choi on the ledge, brilliantly so, as a complete madman, against Lee's very internalized performances Kim seemingly our hero ready to get revenge for his murdered fiancee. Now again, I quite wrongly, believed Lee to be overshadowed where in fact his work is just as pivotal as Choi's to the overall success of the film.

It is always interesting to see how a film will play differently when re-watching it, and the earliest scenes of the film have all the greater impact when you are aware of what is coming soon. Lee in the brief scene where Kim speaks with his fiancee is actually rather devastating with this knowledge in that he does provide a real warmth in the brief scene where Kim attempts to find a moment to romance her while doing his security scenes. It is a genuinely sweet moment where Lee just reveals a normal guy in love, which naturally in this film is not meant to be given that she is murdered as the opening scene of the film. In discovering the murder Lee is moving in portraying the honest grief of Kim as he initially discovers his painful loss. This however changes from the moment he decides to exact revenge by finding the killer. Lee puts that obvious gentle humanity to Kim in his very quiet portrayal of the state of Kim once he begins his descent into hell. Lee's fashions this exact state of Kim as this man filled with vengeance, and is outstanding what he does with his restraint in the role.

Lee shows a man no longer seemingly broken by his loss rather completely in charge of his existence. There is this undeniable  power to the presence of Lee as he is frankly more menacing than the killer he assaults. Lee portrays this with the right limited emotions at times of a man who is essentially focusing himself away from his sorrows, and into the path that gives himself purpose. This is not to say it is unemotional in the slightest. Lee is incredible in the way he stays so quiet yet brings such a palatable intensity in his eyes. His eyes that suggest this hatred that fuels the man on his quest. This though again often has this certain calm and in doing so Lee does not make Kim some otherworldly hero simply doing the right thing, for him it's unfortunately far more complex. In that intensity there is this confidence, and seemingly some ease in his being. A contentment most of the time in his drive to get revenge. In the early scenes where he directly faces the other criminals, or Choi's Kyung-chul Lee brings this detachment within the intensity as though he is acting as some spirit of vengeance who is beyond their limits of understanding. Lee's terrific as this technical facade is actually made properly believable, and what makes him so menacing.

That state is always Lee's point of return in his performance and it so effectively reveals the frame of mind of the man who is finding some strange solace in his quest. This is not to say there are not moments of breaking, Lee in fact brings this at the right moment, such as when he finds his wife wedding ring he naturally reveals a bit of the pain again. That though he wisely keeps restrained still keeping Kim as the properly stoic "hero" that you would find in most revenge thrillers. He returns though always back to seeming in a place away with it whenever he is on his quest. This is to the point in his initial confrontation with Kyung-chul Lee stays almost without emotion in the fight, until he has knocked the killer unconscious and is about to be able to kill him. Lee reveals just a bit of his pain seeping in even within the apparent satisfaction as he is about to commit the coup de grace, and in this Lee makes the strange choice to let Kyung-chul live convincing. In that moment Lee suggests the thought of a man about to lose everything falling back into his despair, and makes sense of the man letting the killer live since if he tortures him it gives him something to keep him going and away from his despair.

Lee shows this as allowing Kim to continue his state of that confidence, that power as he follows and pesters the man trying to drive him insane, well...more insane. Lee brings that detachment, that what would usually be described as sort of a cool bad ass detachment, of the man whose going to make life for the villain a living hell. Lee constantly appears with that intensity, and absolute control as Kyung-chul's personal judge dispensing punishment viciously, and without mercy. Again this is not truly without emotion however Lee brings it through that palatable contempt to destroy the man. That intensity is as such through Lee's performance that he allows Kim to seemingly become almost the monster himself as he stalks his prey of the killers, with the piercing eyes of a different kind of killer as he seems to stare into their souls, and his voice in these moments which reinforce this unshakable determination in his uncompromising pointed delivery. The more time we spend with Lee portraying Kim on the moment the less simple it become, as he indeed seems less the hero seeking revenge, and man becoming not far off the man he's seeking revenge against.

As with Byung-hun Lee's work in his other leading collaboration with director Jee-woon Kim A Bittersweet Life, Lee is springing a bit of trap with his performance. In that while he is compelling in portraying this more subdued, and withdrawn performance it is building to something. We have hints of this throughout as there are the moments where just a bit of Kim's pain reveals itself, however Lee always portrays this is as only very subtle momentary lapses such as single tear where the emotion pushes itself just slightly through, until the very end of the film where he sets a final death trap to end it all. When Kim leaves Kyung-chul to fate Lee is ice cold as he walks away without emotion until finally the end comes, and the trap is sprung with Lee's performance. Again Lee has stayed reserved for the rest of the film but he finally lapses in this scene revealing finally the full extent of all the pain from the events of the story, and the hollowness he's left with. Lee gives one of the most heartbreaking depictions of grief that has all the greater impact as he shows this usually guarded man finally losing any sense of control. Lee in the scene just lets it all go in such powerful way in this messy combination of tears, and laughs, not laughs of joy rather of a horrible madness stemming from his damaged state. Byung-hun Lee gives a great performance that while perhaps his impact is not immediately as obvious as Choi's it holds the same importance in providing a real emotional depth within the carnage through his complex realization of what revenge does to a man.

38 comments:

Luke Higham said...

I'm utterly delighted that you upgraded him to a 5. :)

Calvin Law said...

I'll admit I've never re-watched this because it's such a tough watch, great film but intentionally quite sickening. Glad to see an upgrade though; I think he'll finish 3rd, actually.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Are you still reviewing Affleck. I've expected him to be reviewed last but just want to be sure if he is or not.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

He will be reviewed.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: could I have your thoughts on the screenplays to Brighton Rock, The Fallen Idol, and The Third Man?

Charles Heiston said...

Very glad you decided to review him, he should be praised right along side Choi.

Michael McCarthy said...

Luke: My thoughts on Affleck are at the bottom of the previous post, in case you didn't see.

I just saw Loving Vincent, and I think I liked it a lot. I would love to see Jerome Flynn get a slot in the supporting lineup this year.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on these films:
House of Strangers
The Big Steal
Pursued
Criss Cross
Brute Force
The Racket
Sirocco
Only a Great Divide
On Dangerous Ground

Calvin Law said...

Really enjoyed Battle of the Sexes. The finale is particularly great and emotional, and built up to incredibly well with minimal 'on the nose' stuff. I don't feel the romantic subplot was particularly necessary, and thought the use of Margaret Court as a straw man of sorts wasn't great, but it was really enjoyable, hit the old fashioned sweet spot in its period detail and humour, and both leads were fantastic.

Stone - 5
Carell - 4.5/5
Riseborough - 3
Silverman - 3.5
Pullman - 3.5
Cumming - 3
Shue - 4
Stowell - 4
Morales - 3
McNamee - 2.5

Alex Marqués said...

Robert: you should read this lol https://letterboxd.com/drivefiction19/film/hacksaw-ridge/
For the record, I still haven't seen the film.

Luke Higham said...

Alex: LOL :)

Calvin Law said...

Even I have to admit that was quite entertaining.

Bryan L. said...

2010s Brokeback Mountain, directed by John Crowley

Ennis del Mar-Jack Reynor (I have a hard time seeing any actor 20-25 playing the part now though. Tye Sheridan would be perfect if he was a couple of years older.)
Jack Twist- Alden Ehrenreich
Alma Beers-Jennifer Lawrence
Lureen Newsome- Brie Larson

2010s Grosse Point Blanke

Martin- Miles Teller (Yeah, yeah I know. I really do see him in the part however.)
Debi- Anna Kendrick
Dr. Oatman- Ed Harris
Grocer- Nick Frost

Calvin Law said...

I'd go for Will Poulter as Ennis, actually. Teller would be perfect for Martin, and Frost an inspired choice for Grocer (though I could also see Jonah Hill or Ricky Gervais in the role)

Omar Franini said...

Louis: your ratings and thoughts on Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira and Hiam Abbass for The Visitor?

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: Will Poulter would indeed be great as Ennis now that you mention it, as he has great screen presence and the intensity for some of Ennis' moments. I went with Frost because I think he would bring a likeable charm to the part and a British comic actor could bring an extra spark to the part.

Also, maybe it's just me, but I believe Brie Larson would kill as a cowgirl. Or someone with a Southern accent at least.

Luke Higham said...

My laptop is dead guys. I'm using a name tag for awhile.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you seen Tangled yet. If you have, can I have your thoughts on it and the cast.

Henry W said...

Bryan:

For a 50s Brokeback Mountain, would Marlon Brando be your choice for Ennis Del Mar?

Bryan L. said...

Henry: Yes. Yes indeed.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Alex: That review is annoyingly in-line with my own thoughts.

Bryan L. said...

2010s The Truman Show

Truman-Chris Pine (I think he has the right sensibility for the part)
Hannah Gill/Meryl Burbank- Michelle Williams
Christof- Benicio del Toro
Louis Coltrane/Marlon- Brian Gleeson
Sylvia- Lily James

Henry W said...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aBkTkxKDduc

Louis and you guys thoughts on the following piece of Minecraft music. Is it an excellent exercise in minimalist piano?

Anonymous said...

Louis, are you a fan of Fawlty Towers? If so, how do you rate it out of 5?

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

I'll put them on the docket.

Calvin:

Well all three are examples of Graham Greene's ability as a screenwriter, along with other writers though. Looking at them together one can see his skill in several ways within all three, but also how each are unique to their purpose. In each example Greene's work is some of the best of the crime genre of the period notably focusing even more upon character than the plot, though never ignoring the latter. In each example Pinkie is more important than covering up the murder, Harry Lime is more important than the shoddy penicillin trade, and Baines is more important than the "murder". In each example though the plot is not minor either. On one hand each are compelling in themselves, as well as so well structured particularly the Third Man in the unraveling of the mystery of that third man. The plot though serve as tests on the morality or perspectives of the characters brilliantly. Whether that is for Holly dealing with the true nature of his friend in Harry Lime, Pinkie revealing just how rotten he is at his core, Dallow revealing perhaps the better man, Baines dealing with his lies, or Philippe losing that false image of Baines. Each provide a compelling narrative but also most important a real emotional depth within it. It tests the characters taking you as audience within them through their trials that test their measure in more than one way. In the Third Man and Brighton Rock's cases, not that Fallen Idol has a weak ending, haunting culminations of this in dynamic ending. I disagree with the original contemporary reviews on Brighton Rock as I find having the record scratch is in a way crueler, since it keeps the illusion of Pinkie just a little longer. Now past all that though each have rich dialogue that doesn't insist on itself however what it does do is capture the characters, and makes all the more vibrant.

Henry:

It's a pretty wonderful "simple" piece however it's not minimalist when it comes to music. Music minimalism is usually experimenting with extreme simplicity such as playing around a singular note, or a combination of repetitious chords or scales.

Anonymous:

Haven't seen it.

Louis Morgan said...

Omar:

Sleiman - 3(Well it's been a bit since I've seen the film however as I recall while Jenkins felt properly developed the immigrants were perhaps a touch simple more as plot points than fully developed characters. Sleiman however I did find endearing and likable enough and eventually moving in portraying enough honesty in his interactions with Jenkins.)

Guriria - 2.5(Recall her being fine but perhaps the role is just a touch too simple for her to make anything out of it other than presenting her as the least hospitable of three.)

Abbass - 4(Recall her being quite good even though her writing isn't all the more complex I found she made the right type of balance in portraying this woman who has fashioned a certain coldness in terms of dealing with the world while letting out the right tenderness underneath it all. In addition her chemistry with Jenkins is quite good in they both believable teeter on romantic while holding back in a more platonic understanding.)

John Smith said...

Louis, your thoughts on the score 'The Pink Room' from 'Fire Walk With Me'

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the cinematography of M, Winchester 73 and The Maltese Falcon.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your top ten pieces from Harry Potter and your thoughts on them. e.g. Hedwig's Theme.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Weaver and Griffith in Working Girl.

Bryan L. said...

Everyone: Thoughts on my Truman Show cast and this one for a 2010s Taxi Driver?

Travis Bickle- Ryan Gosling
Iris- Abigail Breslin
Betsy- Olivia Wilde
Sport- James McAvoy (Think Atomic Blonde)
Tom- Jason Schwartzman
Wizard- John C. Reilly

RatedRStar said...

https://letterboxd.com/ratedrstarz/lists/

RatedRStar said...

I have finally created a massive list of every year and every film ranked in that year that I have seen, =D. Feel free to look through all like 90 of them lol.

Calvin Law said...

Bryan: I think I'd much rather see how Pine would handle a role like Travis Bickle, while for Truman I feel like it could be the perfect role for Glen Howerton.

Calvin Law said...

Otherwise, I completely agree with your choices.

Bryan L. said...

Calvin: Pine has handled zoned-out, gonzo characters well under Joe Carnahans direction so he'd be a good fit. BR: 2049 is still fresh in my mind (thankfully) so thats why I went with Gosling.

Howerton is a very good actor and he's an inspired choice for Truman but I figured a Hollywood studio would want a star in the title role, hence Pine.

Henry W said...

Bryan: What do you think of Christian Bale as the character of Bickle? Would he fit the billing?

Also what do you think of Affleck and Williams (Manchester by the Sea) taking on the roles of Terry and Edie (from On the Waterfront) in a remake of the classic film?

Louis Morgan said...

John Smith:

Brilliant work from Badalamenti as never has some descent into hell sounded smoother. It's great combination here though as he does create an appealing song in itself yet his use of repetition of his bass centric instrumentation that is unsettling in a very special way. It does sound good, but in creating this very particular delirium as it goes on.

Anonymous:

M - (Downright brilliant cinematography especially for the time. It is notable through the dynamic camera movements which were so rare at the time. The lighting though and composition of so many shots though have the striking starkness yet beauty. Whether it is that of the lonely ball looking so eerier in the streets, or the darkness that shrouds the faces of the criminals judging the murderer.)

Winchester 73 - (I wouldn't put this among the all time great western camera work by any measure. It's good though offering a grittier styling, particularly for the time, with a stronger contrast than usually found at the time. I wouldn't say it goes all the way in this regard, but its strong work.)

Maltese Falcon - (Pretty straight forward noir cinematography. It isn't nearly as showy as most noirs that came afterwards however it potentially set some standards through just creating clear and effective compositions with just enough of atmosphere within the shadows.)

Luke:

Start with he list.

1. Hedwig's Theme
2. A Window to the Past
3. Lily's Theme
4. Buckbeak's Flight
5. Courtyard Apocalypse
6. Finale - (Prisoner of Azkaban)
7. Apparition on Train
8. Snape Malfoy Manor
9. Harry in Winter
10. Fawkes the Phoenix

Still haven't re-watched it.