Deliver Us from Evil
다만 악에서 구하소서 (Daman ageseo guhasoseo)
South Korea, 2020, 108’, Korean
Directed by: Hong Won Chan
Script: Hong Won Chan
Photography (color): Hong Kyeong-pyo
Editing: Kim Hyeong-ju
Production Design: Jo Hwa-seong
Producers: Kim Won-guk, Kang Kwan-ho, Kim Cheol-yong
Cast: Hwang Jung-min (Kim In-nam), Lee Jung-jae (Ray), Park Jung-min (Yu-i), Choi Hee-seo (Seo Young-joo), Park So-yi (Yoo-min), Park Myung-hoon (Shimida), Kosuke Toyohara (Koraeda)
Date of First Release in Territory: August 5th, 2020
Kim In-nam (Hwang Jung-min, The Spy Gone North) is a former secret agent from a defunct black ops department, now an assassin for hire. During the opening sequence, he brutally executes a Japanese yakuza boss, supposedly his last job. Unfortunately, he learns that his former paramour Young-joo was murdered in Bangkok and their ten-year-old daughter Yoo-min kidnapped by a child-trafficking operation. In-nam leaves for Bangkok, only to realize that the yakuza boss he killed earlier was a Korean-Japanese and his brother Rei (Lee Jung-jae, Svaha: The Sixth Finger), a psychotic thug with a penchant for gutting his victims like pigs, is determined to locate and butcher him.
Written and directed by Hong Won Chan, who debuted with the interesting psychological horror Office, Deliver Us from Evil is a gorgeously filmed, meticulously executed but emotionally distant action thriller. The plot and characterization are as hackneyed as one could imagine, and this seems to be Hong’s intention. He never bothers to explain certain details about the characters and their backgrounds: we never find out exactly what In-nam’s government job was, and why all the agents were abruptly terminated, for instance. The overall mood of the film is dark, somber and unromantic, but there is just a hint of ironic distancing to the proceedings. Hong’s approach does remind the viewer of Kitano Takeshi’s poker-faced directorial style, although minus the latter’s Zen-like aesthetic control.
Like in his previous film, Hong displays an exceptional eye for detail as well as arresting visual imagery. The cinematography by Hong Kyeong-pyo (Parasite, The Wailing) is by turns heartbreakingly exquisite and brilliantly illustrative, sometimes suggesting through hues and textures the emotional contents of a scene not conveyed through dialogue. Production designer Jo Hwa-seong (The Man Standing Next), special effects makeup by CELL and visual effects by Demolition are all in top form. The action sequences supervised by Lee Geon-moon use some editorial tricks such as stop-motion cuts that radically change the speed of a blow (a la Tsukamoto Shin’ya’s Tokyo Fist) but otherwise are suitably impactful. Especially worth noting is an industrial noise-like electronic score by Mowg (Unstoppable, Exit).
Given their (perhaps deliberately) clichéd and archetypal characters, it is not surprising that neither Hwang nor Lee can quite make their personas compelling, sympathetic or fun. In-nam is like one of those retired British MI6 agents in unremarkable Anglo-American thrillers who suddenly show up in a former British colony, say, Hong Kong or India, and make messes out of the local society in the course of resolving some personal family issues. Lee Jung-jae is similarly sabotaged by his rather over-the-top yakuza personification. The film’s surprise acting winner is Park Jung-min (Time to Hunt) who plays a transgendered Korean expatriate living in Thailand, a borderline offensive stereotype for sure, but at least providing much needed counterpoints to In-nam’s lugubrious stoicism and Rei’s randomly articulated psychosis. Park is actually quite good as seemingly feckless but ultimately resilient Yu-i.
Deliver Us from Evil is a curious film, equal parts obtusely cliché-ridden and impeccably stylized, with top-notch technical specs but two inert protagonists in the center of its narrative. It is certainly beautiful-looking and slickly made, with some high-quality action sequences that will satisfy fans of the Asian action genre in which the preferred tools of bodily destruction are knives and machetes.
Hong Won Chan
Hong Won Chan studied film at Sangmyung University and the Korea National University of Arts. He shot a short film The End of an Alley in 2004, and then began his career by doing screenplay revision/polishing for major works including The Chaser (2008), The Scam (2009), The Yellow Sea (2010) and Confession of a Murder (2012). His feature directorial debut Office screened in the Midnight Section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, while also winning numerous awards at home. His second feature Deliver Us from Evil was the highest-grossing Korean film during the pandemic in 2020.
2015 – Office
2020 – Deliver Us from Evil