Tough fatherly guy protects younger girl—it’s a movie trope that’s been done to death. Yet, across Hollywood, Bollywood, Beijing, and beyond, this storytelling formula continues to attract both audiences and A-list male action stars.
Korean cinema is no exception, with 2020’s Deliver Us from Evil as the latest example of this phenomenon. In Deliver Us from Evil, top-grossing actor Hwang Jung-min stars as an intelligence officer turned hitman who must save his young daughter from Thai gangsters, while simultaneously fending off a yakuza enforcer. The film displays limited originality with its Thai backdrop and depiction of a transgender character, but otherwise focuses on delivering reliable mass-market entertainment with little philosophical fuss.
Former Spy Protects Daughter
At the start of Deliver Us from Evil, assassin Kim In-nam (Hwang Jung-min) kills an ethnically Korean yakuza boss named Koreeda, in what’s supposed to be his last hit. Meanwhile, in Thailand, a Korean woman named Seo Young-joo drops her young daughter Yoo-min off at school. However, organ harvesting Thai gangsters kidnap Yoo-min; Young-joo gets murdered while trying to save her.
These disparate threads come together when Korean authorities notify In-nam about Young-joo’s death. As it turns out, Kim and Seo were lovers back when Kim was an agent for South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). However, due to a power struggle within the NIS, Kim had to go into hiding and become a hitman, leaving Seo behind and never learning that he had a daughter: Yoo-min.
Driven to avenge Young-joo’s death and save his newfound daughter, Kim travels to Thailand and begins hunting down the gangsters who kidnapped Yoo-min. Along the way, he enlists a transgender woman named Yui (played by popular leading actor Park Jung-min) to help translate and navigate the local landscape. However, there’s an extra twist beyond the gangsters. Ray (played by A-lister Lee Jung-jae), deceased yakuza boss Koreeda’s sadistic brother, has also come to Thailand to kill Kim in revenge.
Thailand and Trans Representation
Deliver Us from Evil’s Thai backdrop is somewhat novel for Korean action movies, which generally have lower budgets than their Hollywood brethren and thus don’t shoot abroad as often. However, Deliver Us from Evil pretty much copies Hollywood’s lead in exoticizing Thailand. The movie shows Thailand as the land of bars, drugs, and ladyboys, and treats local characters as expendable cannon fodder.
However, Deliver Us from Evil’s inclusion of a transgender character with Yui is worth cautiously lauding. While Yui unfortunately perpetuates stereotypes associating Thailand with ladyboys, her presence is novel given that the “fatherly guy protects younger girl” genre usually perpetuates established gender norms instead of challenging them. Deliver Us from Evil treats Yui’s gender as a non-factor.
She’s just another character with human motivations, and the fact that she’s trans is just a natural part of life. Even if South Korean society retains certain conservative attitudes, the fact that a unabashedly mainstream film like Deliver Us from Evil can cast a major heartthrob actor as a trans character and earn big bucks at the box office is a positive sign. This shouldn’t be surprising though—major Korean dramas like Itaewon Class already include trans characters in an encouraging manner.
A Less Brooding Tone
Beyond its setting and trans representation though, Deliver Us from Evil is a pretty standard action blockbuster. There’s fistfights and gunfights aplenty, and character development is adequate but not the priority.
Asian cinema enthusiasts might recall The Man from Nowhere, which is still probably the best Korean movie in the “fatherly guy protects younger girl” sub-genre. Both The Man From Nowhere and Deliver Us from Evil feature former NIS agents, who fight organ harvesting gangsters to rescue a kidnapped girl. Because of this, Deliver Us from Evil feels a lot like somebody transplanted The Man from Nowhere to Thailand, and made the tone less brooding.
Whereas The Man from Nowhere occurs across dark rainy days and deploys a blue and black visual palette, Deliver Us from Evil occurs during bright daylight and utilizes warmer colors. In The Man from Nowhere, our “fatherly guy” protagonist seems deeply haunted by his past; in Deliver Us from Evil, Kim In-nam’s traumas aren’t as visible, and non-violent supporting characters like Yui provide a counterbalance to brutality.
This brighter and more humanistic tone makes Deliver Us from Evil more accessible to mass audiences, but also makes it far less contemplative than The Man from Nowhere or other noted revenge K-movies like A Bittersweet Life. In our view, haunting philosophical echoes are what help action movies become timeless, so it’s a pity that Deliver Us from Evil doesn’t lean more in this direction. Despite this, the film still provides a great degree of entertainment, and should please anybody looking for a solid action flick.
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Deliver Us from Evil (Korean: 다만 악에서 구하소서)—South Korea. Dialog in Korean. Directed by Hong Won-chan. First released 5 August 2020. Running time 1hr 48min. Starring Hwang Jung-min, Lee Jung-jae, Park Jung-min.
Deliver Us from Evil screened at the 2020 Busan International Film Festival and is part of Cinema Escapist’s Busan IFF coverage.