A Hard Day (2010)
Director: Kim Seong-Hoon
Writer: Kim Seong-Hoon
Starring: Lee Sun-Kyun, Jo Jin-Woong, Jeong Man-Shik
Continuing the theme of crime thrillers, this time I’ll be taking a look at the darkly comic A Hard Day, by writer/director Kim Seong-Hoon (How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men, The Guy Was Cool). In this movie, Lee Sun-Kyun (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, R-Point) plays a crooked homicide detective whose attempt to cover up a fatal hit-and-run accident leads to an increasingly desperate series of misadventures:
Detective Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-Kyun) is attending his mother’s funeral when he gets a call from work: Internal Affairs have turned up unannounced, and they’re about to find the stash of bribe money in his desk that he’s looking after for the whole team. Racing back to the station, he swerves to avoid hitting a dog that wanders into the road . . . and ends up hitting a man instead, killing him stone dead. Desperate to get back and deal with Internal Affairs, and to avoid further scrutiny, he shoves the body into his trunk and drives off. Thus begins the titular “hard day”, which quickly spirals out of hand.
A Hard Day is only Kim Seong-Hoon’s third screenplay, and his second turn in the director’s chair, but you’d never guess that. The movie is written and edited to perfection, building from a running start to maintain a powerful feeling of tension and paranoia, dragging the viewer along with Detective Go on his self-inflicted rollercoaster of desperation until the inevitably violent climax. Elements of humour are injected with perfect timing, and at just the right quantity to balance out the darker nature of the main story. There is no wastage or bloat anywhere in the script, and the physicality of the film’s direction contributes perfectly to the storyline and character development. A scene near the beginning, in which Detective Go tries to hide the body in the funeral home, is especially masterful.
The cast are also marvellous. Detective Go has few, if any, redeeming features – he never hurts anyone on purpose unless they deserve it, and he’s fiercely loyal to his colleagues and his family, but he is, largely, corrupt and self-interested. Still, Lee Sun-Kyun manages to elicit sympathy for the luckless protagonist as we watch him flounder, struggle, and survive by the skin of his teeth through increasingly disastrous scenarios. It’s difficult not to feel for him as his own actions, and his terrible luck, drag him deeper and deeper into trouble. In fact, as the only major role other than the villain, Lee almost single-handedly carries the movie.
Almost, that is, except that said villainous role is handled with care by Jo Jin-Woong (The Front Line, Hwayi: A Monster Boy), whose slimy, creepy confidence wonderfully offsets Lee’s twitchy energy. Jo plays the character with such oily charmlessness, and makes him such an unlikeable antagonist, that the hapless Detective Go seems positively heroic by comparison. Parts of his performance are so smoothly confident that they appear to be ad-libbed, and it’s a genuine joy to watch the actor take such ownership of every scene.
So, in summary, A Hard Day is nothing if not excellent. As much as it pains me to give so many high scores in a row, I’m going to have to give it an 8.5/10. I’m tempted to score it higher, but you cynical bastards probably wouldn’t believe me. For what it’s worth, the movie is so perfectly timed that the dramatic beats start to become predictable; the timing and nature of the conflict work largely to an established formula. Like many movies in this genre, the third act – and especially the climax – have to play out in a certain way, and the success of it depends on whether or not this works for you. The execution, however, is flawless.
Anyway, I’ve managed to build up a bit of a backlog recently. I’ve got five or six movies floating around my brain right now, including the latest from Lee Jeong-Beom – No Tears for the Dead – which deserves careful consideration. Valentine’s Day is coming up, so I feel I should review something particularly nihilistic for the occasion.