For those who like their modest Korean blockbusters to be served frothy and familiar, look no further than Special Delivery. It takes its cat-and-mouse car chase cues from the likes of Drive, The Transporter, and Baby Driver. It features Park So-dam (Parasite, The Silenced) as Eun-ha, a steady handed, ice-cool courier who “delivers anything the regular post will not.” This mostly involves shuttling criminals and gangsters out various South Korean portlands, although it occasionally involves smuggling defecting North Koreans in. She works for a port-side scrap metal father figure (Kim Eui-Sung), who has a plentiful supply of unregistered cars, and a competent Pakistani mechanic (Howard Han) to kit them out for this lucrative side-hustle.
Other than friendly bantering over the split of the lucrative revenue, things are going swimmingly. That is until a job comes along involving a major league pitcher, his son Seo-won, and a unit of corrupt cops who have been profiting off of sporting betting on ‘thrown’ baseball games. With the bad lieutenant (Song Sae-Byeok) unafraid to resort to extreme violence and murder, Seo-won ends up in Eun-ha’s car. Reluctant maternal bonding ensues.
Special Delivery wants to have its cake and eat it too. It drops a steady stream of lightly misogynistic (and racist) jokes, while empowering its lead (and her immigrant mechanic). It is unsteady and uneven in its drama between the car chases and action. That being said, when Eun-ha is at the wheel, and everyone stops talking, the film is pretty spectacular. In particular, the editing places focus on the wildly swinging gravitational forces affecting passengers inside the vehicle from all the braking, turning, and gently gliding backwards in neutral.
Vehicular set-pieces in the back-alleys of Seoul, a multi-storey parking garage in Incheon, or the commercial shipping docks of Busan, all pop with inventive ideas and slick visuals. Yes, there is some CGI enhancement here and there, but for the most part, the best gags are practical. I wish there were more of them, and less of the mean cops shouting into cell phones.
I also preferred the insouciant, iced-tea sipping, casually in control Eun-ha, compared to the fish-out-of-water surrogate mother that the film inevitably steers her towards. But, every now and again, writer-director Park Dae-Min punches out a worthy dramatic or comedic moment, such as Seo-Won pleading to her, “Why is it so hard, to live!?” In moments like this, Special Delivery teases with a deeper version of itself, but alas, for the other 99%, it is content to skim the surface.
Compared to glossy genre entertainments like Train to Busan, where not a moment, or character beat, or idea is ever wasted, or the gonzo-silly Extreme Job, where its excesses are easily forgiven due to the gleeful ridiculousness it wears on its sleeve, Special Delivery preaches the virtues of moderation, it is right there, textually, in the dialogue, but it cannot quite stop from overstuffing itself in the wrong places.
- Release Date: 1/22/2022