Detective Gun-Soo skips out on his mother-in-law’s funeral to attend to a crisis at the police station. While driving to the station a man appears out of nowhere and Detective Gun-Soo crashes into him with his car. The man is dead and Detective Gun-Soo panics. He drags the dead man to his car and throws him into his car trunk. Detective Gun-Soo’s hard day is just beginning.
For those that have been following Movieblort for a while will know that I have a particular soft spot for South Korean cinema. I have attended the South Korean Film Festival in London for the past 2 years, and I am still making my way round the classics, alongside many of the ‘Tartan Asia Extreme’ films that really thrust South Korean cinema into the limelight. This film hit the festival circuit both at Cannes and the London BFI Film festival among many more, but it is only now that it has become available on Amazon Prime do we have the pleasure of viewing this in our own homes.
The film, as per the description, would be dubbed as a ‘crime thriller’. It has all the makings to rank alongside fantastic films like ‘A Bittersweet Life’, ‘The Chaser’ and ‘The Yellow Sea’, but there would be some who might argue that this genre has been played out in South Korean cinema. We have seen it all before, and that there is only so much gratuitous violence and axe shots to the chest that we can handle as an audience. I’m here to let you know that ‘A Hard Day’ does not fall into that common ground we have grown so accustomed to, and provides a welcomed break from the norm. What we have here is an stylistic, action/comedy/crime thriller the caliber of which the US attempts in this space would only dream of emulating (Excl. John Wick).
Lee Sun-Kyun puts in a respectable performance as Det. Gun-Soo, a man whose day is about to go from bad to worse. The intensity and panic he displays, while simultaneously not giving so much of a drop of remorse while covering up his accident, only adds deeper value to the levels of corruption within the law enforcement we come to understand throughout the film. His character is a victim of circumstance, but as is quite often the case, how good is the good guy? Forming the other half of this awful day, is the mystery adversary, who threatens to pull the rug from under him and ruin his day even further. This is the basis for a brilliant 1 on 1 battle of mind games culminating in a finale that is both stupid and satisfying.
Much unlike the nausea inducing Taken 3, A Hard Day is handled expertly by director Kim Sung-Hoon and cinematographer Kim Tae-Sung. From wide panning shots and intense close ups, the slick stylistic feel of the film is maintained without need to resort to a multitude of hard cuts and handheld cameras. I can only imagine that the job has been made all the more easier, for they are not trying to make a 62 year old look exciting as he huffs and puffs over mundane obstacles.
The action in this film appears to be well thought out, realistic and suited the tone of the film. We were not suddenly treated to an expertly choreographed battle, nor a flood of 40 knife wielding gang members, instead it was the brutal and unforgiving realism that made the scenes what they were. Bashing each other in the face with fists, smashing heads into blunt objects and rolling about uncoordinated on the floor may not sound all that glamorous, but it was a refreshing change.
The bleak South Korean humour compounded with the mysteriousness of the adversary keeps you in limbo for the first half, you are laughing away at a criminal and his predicament but still have no idea who to root for. The second half explodes into a frenzy as the detectives opposite number is revealed. An impressive, well paced sequence of one-upmanship consisting of continued mind games and spurts of action drives up the films intensity to it’s delightfully silly conclusion. It gets a little ridiculous, the script is far fetched but funny, but above all else it is a fun and exciting contribution to the genre.