Ben Nicholson London Korean Film Festival

Korean Film Festival: ‘A Hard Day’ review

★★★☆☆

Some guys just can’t catch a break. Homicide detective Ko Gun-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is the man having a run of luck usually reserved for the likes of 24’s Jack Bauer in Kim Seong-hun’s sophomore feature, A Hard Day (2014). Having played at Cannes, Toronto and London earlier in the year, this genre flick is a perfectly enjoyable, if ultimately unremarkable, entry in the London Korean Film Festival’s line-up. After the slapstick of his debut, 2006’s How the Lack of Love Affects Two Men, Kim once again injects his movie with absurd humour, this time strewn throughout a cop drama brimming with crunching action. Ko is a few tipples over the limit when he gets a message calling him away from his mother’s funeral.

Internal affairs are – rightly, it would seem – investigating Ko’s corrupt division and he’s required back at the office urgently. On the way, however, Ko hits and kills a man with his car and, intoxicated and afraid, decides to bundle the mangled body into his trunk. In a fit of inspiration that could only come to a devilishly drunken mind, our protagonist decides to hide the cadaver in the one place nobody will look – the soon-to-be-buried coffin of his own mother. As the man become the subject of a search, the net tightens around Ko even before he begins to receive anonymous phone calls threatening his exposure unless he follows orders. All in all it’s slick stuff from Kim, who holds A Hard Day back from the strain of hyper-stylised aesthetics so often employed by his South Korean compatriots without scuffing the polish of his own fine visuals.

Shots are kept interesting but always in service of propelling the twisting narrative which takes in anxious moments at a police checkpoint with the corpse in the boot before a game of cat and mouse ensues. As the plot advances, confusion and tension give way to some very well executed action – a wince-inducing bathroom face-off is amongst the bruising highlights. Lee is fine, if a little bland, as the anti-heroic Ko and Cho Jin-woong is having a lot of fun as his callous and despicable adversary. Underlining proceedings is a fairly pointed critique of Korean law enforcement with almost every officer shown to be on the make to some extent. Such institutional corruption is never fleshed out in any particularly insightful way, but social commentary is not the primary concern here. Kim has crafted a rollicking thriller that for much of its runtime is as shallow as a puddle, but equally A Hard Day is fun to splash around in for an hour and a half.

This review of A Hard Day was originally published on 8 October 2014 as part of our London Film Festival coverage.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson