Editor’s Notes: A Hard Day is currently out in limited release.
Detective Geon-su Go, the protagonist of Seong-hoon Kim’s breathlessly paced Korean thriller, is having “a hard day”. In the space of 24 hours, his wife divorces him, his mother dies, he’s investigated for corruption and, for the misanthropic icing on the cake, he commits a fatal hit and run. In an attempt to clear his tracks, he hides the victim in his mother’s coffin. Kim only ramps up Go’s seemingly endless suffering from there, hurling him into one taut Hitchcockian situation after the other until even the audience doubt they can take any more punishment. Just as the onslaught of absurdist poundings Go receives seems to reach its long-overdue peak, he answers a mysterious call from a fellow cop claiming to have witnessed his crimes and threatens to reveal all. Suddenly, today’s office-bound quarrels feel inconsequential, don’t they?
Combining dark comedy and pulse-pounding action to dizzying effect, this is shockingly good fun.
Sun-kyun Lee embodies the miserable miscreant Go brilliantly. At times, his despicable nature makes him almost impossible to sympathise with, but the unceasing cruelty his character is subjected to leads to some genuinely heartfelt moments of self-reflection. Kim appears to suggest this was all Go’s doing, allowing the audience to either take wicked pleasure in witnessing his pain or connect with his determined resistance of it all. Jin-woong Jo is absolutely magnetic as the sadistic mastermind of this horrible day, lending the character a muscular intelligence which makes his devious plan equally repulsive and compelling.
A Hard Day, whilst undoubtedly of its origin in custom and setting, feels like a spiritual successor to the darker-themed Coen Brothers movies; Miller’s Crossing casts a huge shadow over the proceedings. Combining dark comedy and pulse-pounding action to dizzying effect, this is shockingly good fun. Perhaps too much fun, given the queasily incorrect nature of Go’s many trials. Watching a bereaved man hide his victim in his own mother’s coffin should be traumatic, yet Kim’s keen eye for slapstick and expert tension-building result in one of the most compulsively enjoyable sequences of the year.
For a sophomore directorial effort, A Hard Day is an incredibly stylish piece of genre cinema, boasting superb cinematography from Tae-Sung Kim.
For a sophomore directorial effort, A Hard Day is an incredibly stylish piece of genre cinema, boasting superb cinematography from Tae-Sung Kim and a pulsating score courtesy of Young-Jin Mok. Kim is a natural born director, and his talent behind the camera is matched by his intricate screenplay. Blending old-fashioned suspense motifs (ringing phones) with modern sensibilities for frenetic car chases and brutal fight scenes, he has crafted a kinetically charged masterclass in suspense. The 111-minute run time flies by in a cavalcade of the ridiculous, heart-pounding and absurd.
There comes a point where the narrative seems to reach its natural climax, but Kim extends the action for another 20 minutes of pure visceral pulp (quite literally). It’s an undeniably engaging sequence, featuring some of the best fight choreography this side of The Raid, yet feels extraneous; a punchline to a joke that’s already been told. If Kim had restraint to match his creative power, this could have been the next Speed. In its current, near-perfect form however, A Hard Day is gripping, darkly hilarious and hugely satisfying. This has “cult classic” written all over it.
A Hard Day is gripping, darkly hilarious and hugely satisfying. This has “cult classic” written all over it.