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Deliver Us From Evil (Daman Akeseo Guhasoseo, 다만 악에서 구하소서)

Director – Hong Won-chan – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 108m

*****

An assassin trying to rescue his ex-girlfriend’s child from organ thieves discovers a rival is after him for killing his brother – Wednesday, October 26th, 20.30 at The Cinema At Selfridges as part of a strand of films celebrating actor Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game) at London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs in cinemas from Wednesday, October 19th to Sunday, October 30th; also available to rent on Sky Go, Sky Store, iTunes, Amazon Prime and Google Play

In a darkened building somewhere in Japan, former South Korean government agent turned professional assassin In-nam (Hwang Jung-min) surprises and pacifies then kills his terrified, Japanese-Korean mob boss target. Meanwhile, his former girlfriend Young-joo (Choi Hee-Seo) is in Thailand in the process of putting down the deposit to buy a golf course when her small daughter Yoo-min (Park So-yi) is kidnapped. Desperate, Young-joo attempts to contact In-nam through his boss over the phone, but In-nam has long since told her she must decide between her child and him and as far as he is concerned, she made her decision. He instructs his boss to inform her he is dead.

When her corpse turns up in a Thai morgue shortly afterwards and he is named as next-of-kin, however, In-nam resolves to go to Thailand to find and rescue the child. At this point, his boss informs him there’s a problem: no-one knew at the time that the last man In-nam killed was the brother of notorious assassin Ray the Butcher (Lee Jung-jae) who is now after him. Will In-nam be able to save the girl from having her organs harvested before Ray catches up with him?

This deceptively simple plot with its race against time mechanics is the perfect vehicle for a terrific, edge of the seat action movie and the film delivers on its action sequences much like the best of Hong Kong’s action movies of the 1980s and 1990s, although the staging and shooting of the action here has a highly original and idiosyncratic feel, much of it taking place in long corridors between rooms or at one juncture running along a balcony as In-nam attempts to escape his pursuer by leaving a room via a window.

The film, like In-nam as he relentlessly seeks the whereabouts of his little girl and Ray as he equally relentlessly seeks to locate In-nam, never lets up. Moments of apparent calm such as a brief ride in a taxi from a to b, shot from inside the taxi, are likely to be interrupted by the taxi being unexpectedly rammed by another vehicle.

Perhaps the calmest moments are those with In-nam talking over the phone to his handler as he hears information about the latest piece of the puzzle in which he finds himself and works out what his next move will be. And his opening killing, while he intends to show his victim no mercy and get the job done, also sees him calming and reassuring the distressed mob boss as a slaughterhouse worker might an incoming animal prior to delivering the fatal blow.

A flashback at an airport when In-nam explains her two options to his disbelieving girlfriend is rudely interrupted when a man enters the lift they’re in and attempts to kill In-nam as she watches, completely traumatised. The sudden speed of unexpected violence erupting into the world of a person with no previous experience of it typifies much of how the film plays out, plunging the audience into a breakneck series of similarly violent scenarios.

In-nam’s attempts to explain to others and think things through in a calm and reasoned fashion, at least when he finds himself in the lulls between the numerous scenes of mayhem, are in marked contrast to Ray who loves to put the fear of God into those he’s about to kill and confesses a fascination to watching their eyes. In-nam kills people because it’s his job and he’s very good at it but doesn’t seem to relish having to do so. Ray kills people because he enjoys making them suffer. Mercy is an alien concept to him.

The little girl is an innocent caught up in a scam for which her mother has fallen in her desire to invest in a profitable business. The scammers ascertain their victim has the money before kidnapping a child with a view to both getting paid a ransom then not letting their victim live and getting paid again by harvesting the child’s organs. In Thailand, it seems, there’s a market among Koreans who’ll pay for body organs from children of their own nationality.

Like other children in the featureless locked room in which they are held, Yoo-min trusts the adults because that’s all she can do. They are not trustworthy but hold the power of life and death over these kids. We see a young boy who’s had surgery with a six inch suture on his torso and we know what that means. It’s a frightening portrayal of what it must be like to be a trafficked kid destined for organ removal.

Not that the film is intended as a slice of social realism – it’s awash with unexpected and violent fight scenes, assassinations and car chases. Much of the action takes place in confined spaces, most memorably the scene where Ray, slaughtering members of the trafficking gang as he goes, comes down a lengthy corridor at the end of which Im-nam is talking to kids in a locked cell and threatening their adult captors in an attempt to extract information about the kidnapped girl’s whereabouts.

Also in the mix is In-nam’s local, trans guide Yoo-yi (Park Jeong-min) who’s doing it for the money to leave the country and complete his gender reassignment surgery, initially unaware of quite what he’s got himself in to, completely out of his depth but nevertheless doing what needs to be done to look after his client and rescue the little girl.

For the finale, when In-nam has lost and is hunting desperately for Yoo-min, he boards a van driven by Ray and the two fight to the death at it speeds through urban Thailand hitting cars and market stalls in passing as Ray takes his hands off the wheel to concentrate on fighting his assailant much like James Bond in the fight on a speeding boat in Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965). As if to emphasise the consistent claustrophobia of the proceedings, Yoo-min is actually in the van, locked in a suitcase to keep her hidden in transit. As the two men fight, our sympathies are very much with the incarcerated child who we hope is somehow going to come through this appalling situation.

The film topped the Korean box office in August 2020. Given its striking characterisations, the compelling peril of the little girl and the non-stop, high-octane mayhem it delivers, it’s not hard to see why. In 2020, the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) ran a season of films called Trapped! the Cinema of Confinement. This would have fitted in perfectly.

Deliver Us From Evil plays Wednesday, October 26th, 20.30 at The Cinema At Selfridges as part of a strand of films celebrating actor Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game) at London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs in cinemas from Wednesday, October 19th to Sunday, October 30th; the film is also available to rent on Sky Go, Sky Store, iTunes, Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Trailer:

LEAFF Trailer:

Links:

London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) calendar

Opening Gala,

Official Selection, Competition, Actor Focus – Lee Jung-jae, Documentary Competition, Film Maker Focus – Cinematographer Mark Lee, Classics Restored, Halloween Horror Special

Closing Gala.

Tickets

Festivals

2022

London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

2020

London Korean Film Festival (teaser screening)

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