There’s something primal in the appeal of skilled drivers pushing the limits of their vehicles while slaloming in and out of illegal behaviors. None of us can mimic those moves on actual streets in the real world, but we can live vicariously through the movies about them. From Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978) to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), the sub-genre’s appeal is undeniable. The necessary ingredients are pretty straightforward too as the best deliver action, style, and a charismatic lead behind the wheel — that last one being the reason why Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver (2017) stumbles — and the latest contender checks off every one of those boxes. Park Dae-min‘s Special Delivery is a new action/thriller from South Korea, and with Park So-dam in the driver’s seat it’s a ride you’re going to want to take.
Eun-ha (Park So-dam) is an unassuming employee at an average looking salvage yard, but her skillset is as a driver. It’s a side hustle, delivering any and all packages that regular postal carriers won’t handle, and when we first meet her it’s a low-level gangster who she’s delivering to a port across town. He scoffs at a female driver but quickly recants as she skillfully eludes multiple pursuers to reach the man’s destination. Her next gig isn’t as trouble-free, though, and she soon finds herself on the run from corrupt cops with a newly orphaned child named Seo-won (Jeong Hyeon-jun) in her care. Betrayals, beatdowns, and some blistering car action soon follow.
Special Delivery succeeds despite lacking much of anything in the way of a fresh narrative. Park Dae-min’s script borrows from all those that came before while also nabbing a pinch or two from the likes of Gloria (1980) and The Man from Nowhere (2010), but it’s no less of an entertaining popcorn flick for it. A strong protagonist, some nasty villains, and some solid action both in and out of the car helps deliver a fun, poppy thriller up through its satisfying finale.
The twin appeals here are the action and the lead actor, and there’s not much fault to be found with the either. Director Park Dae-min follows up his two period films — 2009’s fantastic but underseen Private Eye and 2016’s Seondal: The Man Who Sells the River — with a contemporary tale that burns rubber via thrilling, smartly crafted car chases. It’s not always about speed as Eun-ha utilizes crazy parallel parking skills and gravity itself to outwit those foolish enough to chase her, but when she does go fast the cinematography, stunt team, and editing work together to deliver the thrills. Some cg does intrude on occasion, but while noticeable it’s far from a deal-breaker given the momentum and creativity on display.
Park So-dam, meanwhile, is every bit the charismatic heart and soul of Special Delivery that you’re expecting. This is her first live-action feature since 2019’s Parasite, and while it’s far less of a thought-provoking film Park’s performance is once again one that commands your attention. She slides effortlessly into the film’s beats whether they’re comedic, dramatic, or action-oriented, and she creates a character worth rooting for. Her action chops are aided in large part by the filmmaking, but you’ll have no complaints there. She may not be at Gena Rowlands’ level, but she channels the legend anyway in her dismissal of the kid that soon turns to begrudging concern and legitimate love. (Side note, seriously, go watch John Cassavetes’ Gloria.)
The script does go to some dark and convoluted places at times, and it can feel at odds with Special Delivery‘s otherwise playful and fun-loving tone. That’s far from a knock, though, as South Korean cinema sometimes has an addiction to tonal imbalance that often works in the respective film’s favor. It’s all sweet and exciting, and then a man is burned alive. We’re laughing along with banter between Eun-ha and her co-workers (Kim Eui-sung, Han Hyun-min), and then one of them is shot to death in bloody fashion. Add in dirty cops, a key fob worth millions, and a federal agent hunting a North Korean defector, and things can get pretty dicey, but the film succeeds because both Parks — director and lead actor — know exactly how to take hold through a combination of character and action.
Special Delivery is a fun time that, even lacking in originality, still slides gracefully into a sub-genre that we just can’t get enough of. Park So-dam is effortlessly cool, the action is slick and exciting, and the film delivers thrills both entertaining and bloody. This being a South Korean film, the child actor is also a talented kid who’s as authentically annoying as he is endearing. It’s ultimately a fluff film, but anyone who says they don’t enjoy empty calories in the form of a good time is lying through their teeth.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival