One Hit-and-Run, a Bunch of Dirty Cops and a Funeral
'A Hard Day' has a fresh take on some cinematic tropesYayWednesday, September 2, 2015
Occasionally, movies surprise you. A Hard Day, a nifty little thriller written and directed by Kim Seong-hoon, gets off to an inauspicious start. It relies on some South Korean cinematic tropes—a funeral; a car accident; corrupt cops—but twists and turns and writhes and stretches into something that transcends archetypes. In the end, it becomes a wholly original thrill ride through the basest human instincts, all while maintaining a slapsticky sense of humor.
Gun-soo (Lee Sun-kyun), a homicide detective, is on his way to his mother’s funeral. While on the phone with his sister, going over the details of the burial, he swerves to miss a dog. But then he hits a man. Thus begins the hard day.
For reasons that defy explanation—probably because they’re in the script—Gun-soo decides he won’t report the incident. Instead, he wraps up the body and stashes it in the trunk of his car.
Just when it seems he’s getting away with it, he turns a corner near the funeral home and runs into a DUI checkpoint. Even though he’s a cop, the officers scanning IDs decide to search his vehicle. What follows is a brief, funny fight scene, as Gun-soo takes on about five uniformed police, until they’re all pepper-sprayed to near blindness.
The scene is full of effective quick editing and Keystone Cops-type humor, but director Kim doesn’t let things devolve into silliness. It’s almost as if the humor makes the violence even more cringe-inducing.
When Gun-soo extracts himself from that mess, he’s quickly into another, namely what to do with the dead body in his trunk. He’s also dogged by an Internal Affairs investigation, a sister with a deadbeat husband and a daughter he loves but doesn’t get to see often, and he’s mourning his mother.
All those details are front-loaded into A Hard Day to ensure maximum suspense. With all the exposition taken care of early on, Kim can keep ratcheting up the anxiety. How long can Gun-soo juggle a dozen balls (and plot threads) in the air?
It’s hard to imagine the picture working without Lee Sun-kyun’s performance. He looks like an everyman, albeit a better-than-average-looking everyman, and a nice guy to boot. (It makes his horrendous behavior easier to forgive.) Plus, he loads so much tension into the performance that he ends up resembling a coiled spring; one nudge in the wrong direction, and he could explode.
The pacing in A Hard Day is pretty sharp, too, which helps offset its dull-looking cinematography. The patina Kim and his director of photography have imbued in the film helps it in a likely unintended way: It’s easier to focus on the action when the backgrounds aren’t so pretty. It would be nice if the look happened on purpose; I’m guessing the DP just isn’t very good.
But in the end, A Hard Day delivers the shocks and thrills, with a couple moments (and a villain, played by the dynamite Jo Jin-woong) that are so jarring you may actually jump out of your seat. I did, and I don’t think that’s happened to me since I saw The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen in 2000. This is an impressive flick. Don’t miss it.
A HARD DAY
Directed by Kim Seong-hun
With Lee Sun-kyun and Jo Jin-woong