Lee Jung-jae has recently achieved worldwide fame for his lead role in Squid Game, but he’s been a reliably popular leading man in South Korea for many years, and is certainly one of the more versatile actors in Korean cinema. His turn here as a flamboyantly coutured, impossibly sadistic Zainichi Korean hitman is one of his purplest, and those who only know him as the relatively mild mannered Gi-hun are certainly in for a shock when he first enters Deliver Us From Evil and promptly suspends a rival gangster from the ceiling by his feet and then guts him from pelvis to sternum. They don’t call him Ray the Butcher for nothing.
Lee, however, is perfectly matched by fellow middle aged superstar Hwang Jung-min, who plays a more reflective hitman, In-nam, a former pseudo-government agent who escaped the wrath of the bad guys whose compatriots he tortured and killed years ago and hid out in Japan, where he hired himself out to underworld types. He’s given one last job by his nominal boss before taking a hefty severance package that he plans to retire on in Panama, but the guy he offs, a woman killer named Kore-eda, happens to be Ray’s estranged “brother,” and thus Ray has pledged to hunt In-nam down and kill him in the most disgusting way. However, In-nam, prior to his leaving for Panama, learns that his ex-girlfriend, Young-ju (Choi Hee-seo), has been murdered in Thailand where she was living for years with a daughter, who has been kidnapped by traffickers. Realizing that the girl is probably his daughter as well, In-nam high tails it to Bangkok, with Ray in hot pursuit.
Obviously, there’s a lot going on in Deliver Us From Evil, but that’s a strong point for director Hong Won-chan, who wrote the scripts for the classic actioners The Chaser and The Yellow Sea. Deliver is not quite up to the high standard those two movies set, but it’s easy to follow the various twists and turns, which actually make sense within the world he’s trying to depict, though I wonder how much Thai people appreciate him making their country out to be this lawless. Still, it’s the details that make the script, and the movie as a whole, continuously interesting. For reasons that aren’t difficult to figure out, there seems to be a lot of Korean expats in Bangkok, and most of them are either carrying out elaborate scams or escaping the conventional social strictures of their native country. One of these is Yoo-yi (Park Jeong-min), a transsexual woman saving money for her operation who acts as In-nam’s guide through the Thai underworld. Though there’s a certain measure of exploitation in the presentation of the character, Yoo-yi perfectly fits in with Wong’s outlandish purposes. The director also effortlessly slips in a bit of social commentary without interfering with the relentlessly bloody action prerogatives: the daughter, as it were, was kidnapped because Japan and Korea do not allow organ donations from children, so the black market for children’s organs from those two nationalities in Southeast Asia is very lucrative.
For the most part, Deliver is yet another expertly staged, finely choreographed Korean gangster film that privileges the kind of super macho code of honor that should be a grind and a bore by now but from which filmmakers as resourceful as Wong can still spin compelling yarns. You pretty much know what’s going to happen in the end, and you won’t be disappointed, but Wong takes you on a really wild ride to get there.
In Korean, English, Japanese and Thai. Opens Dec. 24 in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369- 2831).
Deliver Us From Evil home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2020 CJ ENM Corporation, Hive Media Corp.