Driving back from his mother’s funeral, homicide detective Gun-soo runs over a man in a dark rural street. In a moment of desperation, he dumps the body in a coffin alongside his mother. A few days later, Gun-soo flips through a listing of open cases and finds his accident victim.
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"A Hard Day" is a superbly crafted thriller from South Korea that trades in a pure, Hitchcockian kind of suspense. The social commentary is a welcome bonus, as Lee Sun-kyun's character strikes me as a very modern protagonist: far from the virtuous hero or capable detective of years past, he's a put-upon and anxiety-ridden wreck who's frequently on the verge of tears from the existential weight bearing down on him.
What begins as an anxious, sickly funny, Dostoevskyian tale ends as rote and uninspired action film. The 1st act neatly tracks a series of poor decisions to their string of unlucky outcomes but the film becomes increasingly less interesting when a nefarious villain is introduced, leaving less and less reason to forgive its other shortcomings.
A Hard Day is quite watchable but it has no story to speak of, as every single moment is devoted to its plot line. While the narrative is still thankfully simple, which keeps the suspense going strong and anticipation high, the viewer doesn't have much investment in the characters, therefore, there's little emotion garnered outside of brainless thrills. The set pieces are occasionally fun, but only some are clever.
An over plotted picture that starts off exceptionally well but eventually devolves into the most generic of action films right down to the American style reappearance of the key villain. In the end a disappointment considering the many fine scenes in the early going.
Good is not great. Competent is not exceptional. This film is a good example of the frustrations I have sometimes with South Korean films. The filmmakers on the peninsula have learned much from their cousins across the water in Japan. But the stainless-steel finish of this film can't hide the anemia of its reliance on plot and tone without the poetry.
Wonderful exceptions, thankfully, come our way annually.
A sometimes exhilarating and sometimes derivative thriller with a juicy set-up that is sadly squandered in the third reel. But everything up to that keeps this movie rolling with confidence and purpose. The acting is pretty spot on and while the tone veers close to dark comedy a bit too much for my taste I enjoyed it nevertheless.