Homicide detective Go Geon-soo thought he was having a bad day when he was having to attend the funeral of his mother while simultaneously being investigated by internal affairs. On his way to the funeral, Go Geon-soo accidentally runs over and kills a man. Afraid of going to jail, he quickly hides the body in the trunk of his car and attempts to dispose of the body. A decision that will make his day much, much worse.
I don’t know if it’s just me but it felt like (South) Korean cinema burned too hot too quickly once that initial explosion hit. There were some great films being produced, particularly revenge and crime-thrillers, but it seemed like it wasn’t before long that the market was flooded. I lost interest once it felt similar to the American direct-to-video arena where the movies just blur together. That is until I watched the trailer for Kim Seong-hun’s “A Hard Day” — a movie that looked like it was putting a dark comedy twist on the tropes of Korean cinema.
While being investigated by internal affairs for accepting bribes, homicide detective Go Geon-soo has to attend the funeral of his mother. On his way there, Go Geon-soo accidentally runs over and kills a man. Afraid of going to jail, he attempts to dispose of the body by burying it with his deceased mother. Although Go Geon-soo came close to getting caught, he is eventually able to hide the body without incident. Eventually he starts receiving threatening phone calls from an unknown witness, with unusual demands, who saw the whole incident. As Go Geon-soo tries to tie up loose ends, he begins to uncover an even bigger mystery that goes beyond the attempted cover up of a murder.
In some ways “A Hard Day” did deliver the concept of a comedic take on the Korean crime-thriller genre, albeit in a stark fashion. In the beginning, at least. In life when things go bad, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Could things possibly get any worse?” In the case of our lead character, Detective Go Geon-soo, it does.
I expected this idea was going to be the framework of the movie. That we have to watch as our character — a true anti-hero since we end up rooting for him, even though we shouldn't — as he deals with a bad situation that's being made worse at every turn. However, this idea runs its course within the first thirty or so minutes of the film and it might have been the best decision in terms of writing. The series of unfortunate events could have played throughout the movie where Go Geon-soo was simply having to deal with this dead body. Instead, the movie becomes about the consequences of his actions and how these consequences cause the unraveling of something much bigger.
Seong-hoon Kim and Hae-jun Lee find an interesting twist to the incredibly tiresome police corruption plot by having an already corrupt Detective, uncover further corruption from accidentally killing someone. “A Hard Day” may not have many scenes that will actually have you laughing out loud, but the overall concept and how the story unfolds and develops, becomes amusing in a subtle way. There’s also a slight ribbing of tropes that I think audiences have come to expect from Korean films, like the overtly long fight scenes. Except in “A Hard Day” they tend to be a little more pathetic (for lack of a better word) as our characters fight it out, sloppily, in a public restroom.
“A Hard Day” wasn’t quite the movie I had in mind but I still found it entertaining and thought it was a fresh approach for what I believe to be a tired and worn out genre and plot. The subtle dark humor helped out in this aspect in a major way. Also because there was a well written anti-hero lead and an interesting mystery that kept me engaged as it unfolded. And in the end, I don't see myself returning to the film any time soon but I understand why “A Hard Day” was as well received at the Fantasia International Film Festival as it was at Cannes.
Note: Some of the screenshots used are publicity shots.