By James Hancock July 14th, 2015
There’s a great line in Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945) where the central character Al Roberts states, ‘Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.’ This line for me captures the essence of classic film noir and this same sense of fatalism and desperation imbues every frame of Kim Seong-Hun’s masterful new film ‘A Hard Day’ which opens Fri July 17th (at New York’s Village East Cinema with a national release to follow). It seems like every year South Korea launches dynamic new filmmakers onto the world stage and within the first few minutes of this movie I had already become a massive fan of Kim Seong-hun. The unpredictability and insanity of the plot is a large part of the movie’s appeal. I don’t want to give anything away but the film follows a dirty cop over the course of 24 hours as he tries to cover up the fact that he has committed a fatal hit and run. When a mysterious caller begins taunting him with the knowledge of his crimes, all hell breaks loose as the cop tries to determine the identity of the man blackmailing him all while having to deal with the death of his mother, a divorce, accusations of embezzlement, and the disappointment of a young daughter who simply wants his attention. While the film is certainly in the spirit of great film noir, I laughed throughout most of the movie at the sheer outrageousness of the plot, making me now think it probably has more in common with Martin Scorsese’s dark comedy After Hours (1985) than it does with any traditional crime film. Its sheer inventiveness alone makes most American films in the same genre feel like they’re standing still.
What I love most about A Hard Day is the speed of the film. Without resorting to silly shaky cam effects or rapid-fire editing gimmicks, the film whizzes along at a breathtaking pace. In spite of the fact that the central character is a bit of a scumbag we can’t help but root for him as he tries to navigate each strange new predicament he encounters. This is not a spoiler in that it is alluded to in the trailer but the extreme lengths he goes to in hiding the man he killed in his mother’s coffin is worth the price of admission alone. His face becomes a landscape of conflicting emotions (mostly shock and panic) as he proves to be incredibly resourceful in covering up his crimes only to be faced with even greater challenges with every new scene. Gradually the film evolves into an elaborate game of cat and mouse that ends in some of the most entertaining displays of violence I’ve seen in years. There are few genres of storytelling in film and television more tired and exhausted than stories about dirty cops. I avoid most of them like the plague. But with A Hard Day we have a film that is so unpredictable, so shocking and so hysterical that you can’t help but surrender to the strangeness of the narrative. Chalk me up as a fan of Kim Seong-hun, one of the best new filmmakers to emerge from South Korea in a long time and I eagerly look forward to whatever cinematic delights he hurls at us next.
A Hard Day opens Friday, July 17th at New York’s Village East Cinema with a national release to follow.
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