Special Delivery review – noirish bruiser is Fast and Furious in South Korea

·2-min read

This barrelling action thriller has been billed as a Korean Fast and Furious, but takes a swift handbrake turn into something considerably darker and more introspective. Parasite’s Park So-dam stars as Eun-ha, a Busan junkyard worker who moonlights as an elite courier, ferrying fugitives. Calmly sipping a slushie as she slams her BMW through the streets, bantering with her Hawaiian-shirted boss, she is coasting through this petrolhead playground, until her latest job comes in.

Eun-ha is tasked with going to Seoul to run a disgraced baseball player involved in a gambling scam down to the docks where he can flee abroad. But there’s a snag: he is caught by Jo (Song Sae-byeok, channelling Gary Oldman’s linen-suited mania from Leon), a corrupt police officer running the racket, so she only manages to pick up his son Seo-won (Jung Hyun-jun). The kid is carrying the security fob needed to access an account holding millions, and Eun-ha finds herself thrust into the role of reluctant parent with the capital’s bent cops on her trail.

It’s a labyrinthine setup for an action film, one that blooms almost noirishly as the chase unfolds and Seo-won’s vulnerability triggers dormant compassion in Eun-ha. As we learn when Jo brings on board a special investigator, she is a North Korean defector (who, in South Korean films, often seem to have almost superhuman capabilities). Against her best judgment, she starts to surrender to the feelings of estrangement and abandonment awakened by the boy. In essence, it’s the same “family” message as Fast and Furious – but it’s a hard-won realisation here, not a contractually obliged refrain.

Sometimes the joins show on the bodywork where director Park Dae-min, in his third feature, solders this traumatic material to the cocky popcorn-flick register. If there’s a similar ad hoc quality to some of the plotting, this pragmatism serves the action sequences well. Not just packed with slick driving, they are driven by a furious improvisation, too, from jamming legs in car doors to Jo stapling his wounds shut. Like Drive My Car’s chauffeur gone rogue, Park So-dam is an interestingly sullen, uningratiating heroine, and this bruiser of a film reminds us that even middling Korean genre fare is a cut above.

• Special Delivery is available on digital platforms on 22 August.