Director: Hong Won-chan
Notable Cast: Hwang Jung-min, Lee Jung-jae, Park Jung-min, Choi Hee-seo, Park So-yi, Song Young-chang
One time I had a friend of mine refer to action films that revolve around kidnapping as ‘search and destroy films,’ and it has been a phrase I tend to use for some time now. To be honest, I’m quite a fan of these search and destroy flicks, whether it’s a Taken knock-off or one of the SPL sequels. For the film Deliver Us from Evil, a title that sounds far more fitting for a religious horror film than an intense and brutal South Korean actioner, it’s the latter films that have the most influence on its intentions. At the baseline, it’s a fairly standard action thriller that even more casual fans of the genre or South Korean cinema can consume. With two key performances, some brutal action, and just enough heart, it’s hard not to love what Deliver Us from Evil is pushing despite its relatively generic approach to storytelling.
Going into Deliver Us from Evil, expectations were certainly high. Besides its two-handed A-list cast, the film is directed and written by Hong Won-chan. The name might be fairly unfamiliar from a directorial standpoint, he only has one other credit for a film named Office, but his writing credentials are stacked. He delivered three of the most insanely tense and challenging films from the modern age of South Korean cinema with The Chaser, The Yellow Sea, and Confession of Murder. The Chaser is one of the few films I’ve ever given five stars on this site and his script is one of the major reasons for this.
With this expectation in mind, Deliver Us from Evil does feel as though Hong Won-chan is coasting it a bit in the writing department. Perhaps he was far more focused on the directorial side of things this time around, more on that in a bit, but here the script feels relatively standard. An ex-government assassin turned hitman (Hwang Jung-min) is ready to disappear. He just finished one last job that no one would take and he has his tickets to Panama. A phone call arrives that an old flame has been murdered and her 9-year-old daughter has gone missing. Now, he must use all of his skills to find the girl and escape a rival killer (Lee Jung-jae) before she’s used for body harvesting on the place market in Thailand.
The story, a search and destroy template - particularly by South Korean or Hong Kong standards - is the hitman with heart basics. What uplifts the film are the characters, their portrayal and the havoc they cause. All three are fantastically executed. The two “leads”, the previously mentioned Hwang Jung-min and Lee Jung-jae, are incredible presences in their roles. While the former represents the ‘humanity restoration’ of the film, it’s Jung-jae’s “butcher” that represents the insanity and darkness that Hong Won-chan normally delivers. His villainous killer, sporting brightly colored shirts, white suits, and a penchant of horrific and unstoppable violence is one of the best villains of the year in cinema and should be noted as such.
A special mention also goes out to Park Jung-min as Yui, the transgender Thai woman who helps out our hitman hero find his daughter. Oftentimes a character like this is played solely for laughs and while Yui is regularly the comedic relief in tense moments, the character might end up being the most layered and interesting one in the film. She’s played with heartfelt conviction and her character arc is impressively strong which allows her to be the core of many of the best scenes in Deliver Us from Evil.
Naturally, one does come to a film like this for the action and Deliver Us from Evil does not disappoint in this arena. The shaky hand-held camera work tends to be a tad much in many key moments, but overall, the setup and pay-offs are cheer-worthy. A fantastic elevator bout to kill assassins, a wicked street-side firefight with police, and a finale where hitman and butcher come to bloody blows in a van make for a rib-cracking, gory, and vicious good time. Perhaps the best sequence is when a group of thugs tries to corner the butcher in a warehouse and, boy howdy, do they grab the wrong end of the knife in that situation. It’s well shot, impressively choreographed and features some fun surprises along the way.
For more discerning action fans, especially those who actively seek out the best from the South Korean market, Deliver Us from Evil is a fairly standard watch. Yes, the execution is strong, but the formulaic script tends to leave a lot to be desired in pushing for the gold that comes with an SK film garnering a US release. However, for more casual fans or those looking for a breakneck action flick with enough heart and hard-hitting fights to burn an evening, it’s the perfect watch. Deliver Us from Evil might not be the best from the writer/director, but it might be his most accessible and entertaining. A feat worth noting as a gateway to his more challenging material.