Thursday, July 27, 2023

Fantasia ’23: Devils

Evidently, Travolta had it easy in Face/Off. His mind-body swap was with Nic Cage, who was crazy, but not nearly as sinister as this Korean serial killer. Det. Choi Jae-hwan had been pursuing Cha Jin-hyuk, until he wakes up inside the psycho’s body. It is obviously inconvenient, but there are also potential advantages when it comes to catching Cha’s accomplices in Kim Jae-hoon’s Devils, which had its North American premiere at the 2023 Fantasia International FilmFestival.

Cha is the leader of a band of dark-web snuff film sickos, so yes, he is really bad. They have long eluded Choi, even killing brother-in-law, a fellow cop, during the prologue. Choi wants him bad, so he pursues him at all costs when they receive an anonymous tip. However, both Choi and Cha disappear into the forest, leaving the cop’s protégé-partner Det. Kim Min-sung completely baffled.

A month later, they mysteriously re-appear. The man who looks like Choi claims to have no memory of the last few weeks, whereas the man who looks like Cha wakes up in the hospital, knowing he is in fact Choi. He also realizes his family is in serious danger from his nemesis.

It all sounds like
Face/Off, but its not. Devils turns out to be much more sinister and devious, but the big secret holds up incredibly well, at least by high-concept thriller standards. Arguably, Devils turns out to be more believable than that John Woo film it so readily brings to mind.

Jang Dong-yoon and Oh Dae-hwan are both terrific in what are essentially dual-co-lead performances. For the record, Jang portrays Choi’s body and Oh supplies Cha’s. They both get to rage like Cage and deep-brood like
Ray Donovan (the Liev Schrieber character, not the cabinet secretary). It is a heck of a clash of titans. Devils is their show, but Jang Jae-ho (from Chief of Staff) is invaluable holding it all together as the conscientious Det. Kim.

In terms of theme and tone,
Devils is probably most like Kim Jae-woon’s I Saw the Devil. In both films, cops make some extreme choices that lead to horrific consequences. They are both excellent films, but seeing them together as a double-feature might be a little too much. Regardless, Devils maintains the Korean film industry’s track record for dark but easily importable thrillers. Highly recommended, it screened yesterday at this year’s Fantasia.