Deliver Us From Evil (다만 악에서 구하소서, Hong Won-chan, 2020)

A melancholy hitman bids for paternal redemption but finds himself literally stalked by the mistakes of his violent past in Hong Won-chan’s pulpy action drama, Deliver Us From Evil (다만 악에서 구하소서, Daman Akeseo Goohasoseo). Aptly named, Hong’s noirish thriller takes us from the back streets of Osaka to underground Bangkok while the hero longs for the tranquil horizons of Panama but finally discovers that he cannot outrun himself even if he can perhaps repay his karmic debt by freeing others from the riptide of his moral transgressions. 

A former government agent apparently unceremoniously burned, In-nam (Hwang Jung-min) has been earning his keep as a killer for hire hiding out in Japan. His “one last job” is knocking off a Zainichi Korean mob boss, Koreda (Kosuke Toyohara), after which he’ll be free to go wherever he wants, arbitrarily setting his sights on Panama solely because of the tranquil scene featured in a picture opposite his favourite seat in his local izakaya. The past is however not done with him yet. His old handler gets in touch to let him know old flame Young-ju (Choi Hee-seo) has been trying to contact him, but so consumed with shame and defeat is he that he declines to respond only to hear a short time later that Young-ju has been found dead in Bangkok and as she’d listed him as next of kin he’s responsible for the repatriation of her body. Remorseful, he’s shocked to discover that Young-ju had a daughter, Yoo-min (Park So-yi), whose kidnap by her Korean-Chinese nanny may be connected to her murder. Switching up his plans, In-nam determines to save the daughter he believes to be his own but is pursued by flamboyant Korean-Japanese gangster Ray (Lee Jung-jae) hellbent on getting revenge for his estranged blood brother Koreda. 

In-nam finds himself in a sense caught between a series of codes of masculinity, apparently a former government spy who seems to have been involved in state sanctioned acts of torture and murder that may privately be against his sense of morality only to fall still further as a killer for hire even if we’re told in no uncertain terms that Koreda was a bad guy, a killer of women whose death is perhaps morally justifiable within the codes of chivalry. In-nam’s partner warns him about Ray, reminding him that they should have killed him at some point in the past but apparently let him live, a decision that has led, as Ray later states, to their present confrontation. Quizzed by a local Thai mobster, Ray claims he can’t even remember why he’s so set on killing In-nam but is mindlessly bound to follow his own code of manliness in avenging the death of a blood brother he had apparently fallen out with some years previously.

Meanwhile, in retrieving his daughter In-nam attempts to reclaim the right to a peaceful life making up in a sense for the mistakes of the past in having first abandoned Young-ju because of his manly code and then failed her in refusing her request for help. He attempts to reassert himself as a father by saving his little girl, but in doing so opts only for the personal, unmoved on discovering a child trafficking network enabled by the peculiar medical regulations of Japan and Korea which prohibit child organ transplants looking to save only Yoo-min while making no real effort to help the others. On reporting her daughter missing to the police, Young-ju had been horrified to discover Yoo-min’s photo pasted onto a wall entirely covered in similar notices for other children the police, as we later discover somewhat complicit, have so far failed to find. Yet saving the children is more happy accident than design, an indirect consequence of In-nam’s violent intervention. 

Indeed, In-nam more or less leaves the kids to his local sidekick a Korean transgender woman whose confirmation surgery he’s promised to fund in return for her assistance as guide and translator while he remains bound to a nihilistic path of manliness knowing there’s no way out for him that does not end in violent confrontation with past sins. Caught between the outlandish pulp of the flamboyant Ray and the noirish fatalism of In-nam’s journey into the darkness of the Bangkok underworld, Deliver Us From Evil defiantly refuses to marry its conflicting sensibilities as the two men pursue their respective codes each looking for their own particular deliverance but finding that salvation lies only in confrontation. 


Deliver Us From Evil screens at Edinburgh Filmhouse on 22nd June and Genesis Cinema London 24th June as the first Teaser Screening for this year’s London Korean Film Festival. The next screening in the series, Voice of Silence, will screen at Edinburgh Filmhouse on 1st July and Curzon Soho 3rd July, while Samjin Company English Class will then screen at London’s Screen on the Green on 8th July.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Money (돈, Park Noo-ri, 2019) [Fantasia 2019]

money poster 1“Could you ask him something for me,” the beleaguered yet victorious protagonist of Park Noo-ri’s Money (돈, Don) eventually asks, “what was he going to use the money for?”. Wealth is, quite literally it seems, a numbers game for the villainous Ticket (Yoo Ji-tae) whose favourite hobby is destabilising the global stock market just for kicks. As for Cho Il-hyun (Ryu Jun-yeol), well, he just wanted to get rich, but where does getting rich get you in the end? There’s only so much money you can spend and being rich can make you lonely in ways you might not expect.

Unlike most of his fellow brokers, Cho Il-hyun is an ordinary lad from the country. His parents own a small raspberry farm and he didn’t graduate from an elite university or benefit from good connections, yet somehow he’s here and determined to make a success of himself. In fact, his only selling point is that he’s committed the registration numbers of all the firms on the company books to memory, and his ongoing nervousness and inferiority complex is making it hard for him to pick up the job. A semi-serious rookie mistake lands the team in a hole and costs everyone their bonuses, which is when veteran broker Yoon (Kim Min-Jae) steps in to offer Il-hyun a way out through connecting him with a shady middle-man named “The Ticket” who can set him up with some killer deals to get him back on the board.

Il-hyun isn’t stupid and he knows this isn’t quite on the level, but he’s desperate to get into the elite financial world and willing to cheat to make it happen. As might be expected his new found “success” quickly goes to his head as he “invests” in swanky apartments and luxury accessories, while his sweet and humble teacher girlfriend eventually dumps him after he starts showering her with expensive gifts and acting like an entitled elitist. It’s not until some of his fellow brokers who also seem to have ties to Ticket start dying in mysterious circumstances that Il-hyun begins to wonder if he might be in over his head.

Unlike other similarly themed financial thrillers, it’s not the effects of stock market manipulation on ordinary people which eventually wake Il-hyun up from his ultra capitalist dream (those are are never even referenced save a brief reflective shot at the end), but cold hard self-interest as he finally realises he is just a patsy Ticket can easily stub out when he’s done with him. Yoon only hooked him up in the first place because he knew he’d be desperate to take the bait in order to avoid repeated workplace humiliation and probably being let go at the end of his probationary period. What he’s chasing isn’t just “money” but esteem and access to the elite high life that a poor boy from a raspberry farm might have assumed entirely out of his reach.

It’s difficult to escape the note of class-based resentment in Il-hyun’s sneering instruction to his mother that she should “stop living in poverty” when she has the audacity to try and offer him some homemade chicken soup from ancient Tupperware, and it’s largely a sense of inferiority which drives him when he eventually decides to take his revenge on the omnipotent Ticket. Yet there’s a strangely co-dependent bond between the two men which becomes increasingly difficult pin down as they wilfully dance around each other.

The world of high finance is, unfortunately, a very male and homosocial one in which business is often conducted in night-clubs and massage parlours surrounded by pretty women. There is only one female broker on Il-hyun’s team. The guys refer to her as “Barbie” and gossip about how exactly she might have got to her position while she also becomes a kind of trophy conquest for Il-hyun as he climbs the corporate ladder. Meanwhile, there is also an inescapably homoerotic component to Il-hyun’s business dealings which sees him flirt and then enjoy a holiday (b)romance with a Korean-American hedge fund manager (Daniel Henney) he meets at a bar in the Bahamas, and wilfully strip off in front of Ticket ostensibly to prove he isn’t wearing a wire while dogged financial crimes investigator Ji-cheol (Jo Woo-jin) stalks him with the fury of a jilted lover.

Obsessed with “winning” in one sense or another, Il-hyun does not so much redeem himself as simply emerge victorious (though possibly at great cost). Even his late in the game make up with Chaebol best friend Woo-sung (Kim Jae-young), who actually turns out to be thoroughly decent and principled (perhaps because unlike Il-hyun he was born with wealth, status, and a good name and so does not need to care about acquiring them), is mostly self-interest rather than born of genuine feeling. In answer to some of Il-hyun’s early qualms, Ticket tells him that in finance the border between legal and illegal is murky at best and it may in fact be “immoral” not to exploit it. What Il-hyun wanted wasn’t so much “money” but what it represents – freedom, the freedom from “labour” and from from the anxiety of poverty. Life is long and there are plenty of things to enjoy, he exclaims at the height of his superficial success, but the party can only last so long. What was the money for? Who knows. Really, it’s beside the point.


Money was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (악인전, Lee Won-tae, 2019) [Fantasia 2019]

81745_1000“Two bad guys will catch the worst man” according to irritated gangster Jang Dong-su (Ma Dong-seok) in Lee Won-tae’s The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (악인전, Akinjeon). He doesn’t quite know how right he is, even as he forms an unlikely alliance with a maverick cop himself highly irritated because his lazy colleagues won’t listen to his theory that a spate of unsolved murders are the work of a serial killer. More alike than they’d care to admit, the two “bad guys” team up to do what they have to do in order to make the killing stop but at what price?

A vicious killer (Kim Sung-kyu) has developed a habit of rear-ending solo drivers on lonely roads, stabbing them repeatedly and then leaving them for dead. Maverick cop Tae-seok (Kim Mu-yeol) has become convinced that the killings were carried out by the same perpetrator and that they have not yet been identified as a “serial killer” partly because the crimes took place in different districts and there is insufficient co-operation between precincts, and partly because his colleagues think serial killers are something you see in American movies. His superiors just want to close cases, they aren’t particularly concerned with upholding justice or protecting the innocent and so Tae-seok starts thinking outside of the box when he hears that the killer’s latest target was none other than top mob boss Jang Dong-su.

Dong-su got rear-ended after running an errand to have a word with a wayward underling, Hur (Yoo Jae-myung), who has forgotten his place. The killer made a serious mistake going after Dong-su who is a big, handy kind of guy and therefore manages to fend him off, even wounding him in the shoulder despite being badly injured himself. Though the obvious conclusion is that Hur sent someone after him, Dong-su is unconvinced seeing as he had never seen his assailant before and is pretty sure he’s not a member of the gangster underworld. Still, he’s very annoying because a gangster only has power in being respected and right now Dong-su looks a fool. If he wants to get his “professional” life back on track, he needs to get his revenge but to do that he’ll have to cross the floor and work with law enforcement, temporarily teaming up with rogue cop Tae-seok whose heart is in the right place even if he’s not averse to bending the rules.

One of the things which most bothers Tae-seok about amoral killer “K” is that, unlike most serial killers, he kills indiscriminately and purely for pleasure. He has no “type” and generally goes up against those most likely to fight back, unlike your average pattern killer who targets the vulnerable. Like Tae-seok and Dong-su, he is however quite annoyed – this time because someone has “framed” him for a murder he didn’t commit in order to further their own ends. Hugely overconfident and cooly psychopathic, he sits in the dock and asks what makes his crimes different than the state’s if the state is fixing to execute him without proper evidence. Pointedly looking at law enforcement, he affirms that the real villains are those who commit crime with kind faces (say what you like, but at least K looks the part).

When it comes to Tae-seok he might have a point. Conspiring with Dong-su to “kill him with law”, Tae-seok gleefully manipulates the system while giving Dong-su tacit permission to take his revenge as long as “justice” has been properly served. K doesn’t believe in anything, Tae-seok believes in a particular kind of “justice” if not quite in the law, while Dong-su mourns the sense of self-belief that allows you to rule the roost as an all powerful gangster. The three men are a perfect storm, each angry, each resentful, each vowing a particular kind of revenge against the forces which constrain them be they corrupt and lazy superiors, gangsterland disrespect, or the “injustice” of being accused of a crime you did not commit but not being properly credited for the ones you did. Bathed in a garish neon, Lee’s anti-buddy-cop drama embraces its noirish sense of fractured morality with barely suppressed glee as its similarly conflicted heroes pursue their violent destinies, true to their own but dragged to hell all the same.


The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)