This 2020 South Korean action flick, not to be confused with the 2014 Hollywood horror flick of the same title, boasts some impressive action sequences, loads of tension and some unexpected bursts of humour and tenderness.
It’s about a black ops agent turned contract killer, In-nam (Hwang Jung-min, The Battleship Island), who wants to retire after his most recent job but gets dragged into a kidnapping case in Thailand.
Just to make it easier for us to cheer him on, it is implied that In-nam takes contracts where the targets are scumbags (“the vilest of the vile”, as his handler tells him).
The situation is complicated because of In-nam’s personal connection to the kidnapping, and the fact that the brother of his last victim is pursuing him relentlessly.
This murderous guy, ominously introduced to the audience as Ray the Butcher (Lee Jung-jae, Hwang’s co-star from the 2014 crime noir flick New World), has a bad habit of being written into each scene exactly at the worst possible time for In-nam.
It’s almost as if someone has been RFID-tagged without their knowledge, the way writer-director Hong Won-chan (Office) keeps the frequent encounters between In-nam and Ray so conveniently coincidental. All the better to ramp up the carnage and fireworks, my dear Frodo.
Eventually, though, Ray’s appearances arrive, as my favourite OTT Bond villain would say, with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.
All credit to Hwang and Lee, then, for making the most out of these glaringly contrived confrontations. I’ve been a fan of Hwang’s ever since I saw him in A Violent Prosecutor and he is as compelling as ever here, with a curious mix of yearning and regret tempering the dispassionate way he metes out retribution to guilty parties.
Lee, who has the role more inclined to scenery-chewing of the two, keeps it in check with an assured hand, delivering the film’s most irony-laced line when someone asks Ray why he is going after In-nam so doggedly.
Comic relief and a good amount of heart is provided by Park Jung-min (Tazza: One-Eyed Jack) as Yui, a transgender showgirl who helps guide In-nam around Bangkok.
The strong leads, the non-stop mayhem and casual disregard for human life have propelled Deliver Us From Evil to the top of South Korea’s box office rankings, reportedly outdoing Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula.
Good show for Hong and company, but I could not shake the feeling throughout that I was watching a South Korean adaptation of Hong Kong’s Sha Po Lang (SPL) series with a bit of Taken thrown in.
The (usually) immaculately white-suited Ray, for instance, brings to mind Wu Jing’s coldly efficient killer from the first film. Even his first throwdown with In-nam carries strong echoes of Donnie Yen and Wu Jing’s great alley fight.
The plot? Straight out of the third SPL film, Louis Koo’s Paradox from 2017. Heck, Thai veteran actor Vithaya Pansringarm shows up in both films as a sort of (unintentional?) bridge between the two.
The derivative content aside, the shaky and sometimes disjointed narrative flow does a bit of a disservice to the slick action choreography and the commitment of the leads.
I have often complained that some South Korean films frequently wear out their welcome and could do with tighter editing.
Deliver Us From Evil is at the other end of that scale. Flashbacks come upon us without warning, characters get a change of heart off-screen, and large chunks of exposition – or at least establishing shots involving important characters – seem to have been left out or trimmed just to make the action flow faster.
This one will certainly satisfy the moviegoer who is just out for some slam-bang entertainment, though its characters and their relationships lack the depth and development for the film to truly deliver the goods.
Sloppy set-ups take some of the shine off a great cast and terrific action sequences.
Did you find this article insightful?