Special Delivery (Teuksong)

Korea (2022) Dir. Park Dae-Min

Maybe we take Amazon, Royal Mail, DHL, Deliveroo, et al for granted when it comes to expecting our orders to arrive, overlooking the journeys their drivers need to make to reach us. After all, anything can happen to hold them up or cause them to take a little detour, like being chased by dangerous criminals for example…

Jang Eun-ha (Park So-dam) works at a car wreckers yard/garage run by Baek Gang-chul (Kim Eui-Sung) but also helps him with an illicit side business of “special deliveries”, usually dodgy packages, or people on the run, which is where the real money is. Eun-ha has a 100% track record of making all deliveries and being quick with it, mostly using done-up older cars with stolen licence plates to avoid police detection. Her latest job will prove to be one she’ll never forget.

A scandal involving fixed baseball games run by mobster Jo Kyung-Pil (Song Sae-Byeok) is exposed by player Kim Du-shik (Yeon Woo-Jin), who not only has absconded with the money but also a bank security fob with access to the mob’s bank account. As they hunt Du-shik down, he is waiting for Eun-ha to pick him and his young son Seo-won (Jung Hyeon-jun) and drive them to safety. Du-shik doesn’t make it but Seo-won does, leaving Eun-ha to look after him as the mob closes in.

Park Dae-min seems to be one of those sluggish Korean filmmakers who only come out of the woodwork when he feels like it. Special Delivery is his third film in 13 years, the previous one coming out six years ago; perhaps we should accept this as an example of good things coming to those who wait, but Park may not be known enough to have a patient audience waiting on his next move.

Fortunately, Park is back with a bang, presenting us with a routine Korean crime thriller rife with violence and corruption, whilst possibly piggybacking on the success of the Fast & Furious or more likely The Transporter films by making this about a skilled driver. As obvious (or lazy) reference points this may be, Park’s version offers a distinctly Korean take on it, along with jumping on the current feisty female lead bandwagon, not that this is a complaint.

The film opens with Eun-ha on a special delivery, two low level gangsters needing to escape some angry rivals. At first they baulk at a female driver which leads to plenty of humour being mined from Eun-ha nonchalantly drinking her coffee whilst performing a number of impressive speed tricks and stunts to evade her pursuers, whilst in the back, her passengers are praying to God for their safety.

Eun-ha is a modern girl – tattooed hands, dyed blue hair, tomboy dress sense, and no nonsense attitude – yet she lives in a comfortable flat with her cat, Chubby. This may seem mundane at first but we later learn a little about Eun-ha’s history as a refugee from North Korea, which puts this into perspective. Similarly, at the wrecker’s yard, Gang-chul employs illegal immigrants, like Pakistani-born Asif (Han Hyun-Min), not just to save on costs but also to give them the better life they sought in the south.

Under any other circumstances, this would make Gang-chul a terrible lawbreaker, not in the least when including the special delivery service, yet it is hard to deny the altruism behind his operation. Compared to Jo Kyung-Pil, Gang-chul is a saint – the mob boss is also a corrupt police detective, manipulating the evidence to frame Eun-ha for Du-Shik’s murder.

Seo-won is probably six or seven but still a burden for Eun-ha, who just wants to get paid and go home. In typical fashion, she tries to dump the kid but he has no family and his father has just been killed, forcing a change of heart. It is not a slight against Park’s script to say there is scant originality in the fabric of the plot, as he spins a yarn that is almost beholden to follow convention – it is how he tells the story that is important.

In this instance, this means throwing in a much action as possible as a substitution for the usual mawkish bonding that usually occurs in this sort of tale. It also serves as a showcase for the resourceful, relentless, and almost super heroic protagonist Eun-ha, the closes thing to a female James Bond in terms of guile, physical endurance, and indestructibility, and a driver to make The Stig hang up is helmet.   

Corrupt police officers are becoming a staple trope in Korean thrillers, so it takes a while before it is revealed Jo is a cop abusing his position. Unfortunately, the source of his greed isn’t given any backstory, so we have to accept him as the sociopath he is, albeit one with a tremendous criminal purview. Also lacking rationale for their actions is Du-Shik, where it would have been nice to know why someone with a son who idolises him became so greedy.

Viewers watching for the car related action are well served, with many incredible high-octane set pieces to behold. I’m certain Park So-Dam didn’t do much stunt driving – she was involved in a car accident which left her afraid to drive until making this film – but whoever was behind the wheel is a monster! Park did do a lot of the physical stunts however, so kudos to her, whilst those who enjoyed her turn in the Oscar winning Parasite may notice a shared attitude between Ki-Jung and Eun-ha.

Despite the predictability of the plot, Special Delivery has a few surprises in it regarding the value of people in society regardless of their origins that might be missed among the cavalcade of tyre-screeching chases and wheel-spinning stunts courtesy of the coolest female driver there is. A tidy crime thriller lies amidst the manic action and gruesome violence in what could be a potential new film franchise. Great fun.

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