‘A Hard Day’ Can’t Turn Stress Into Suspense

GameStop, Inc.

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Doesn’t it seem like when things go bad that they have a way of piling up? It can be overwhelming. One thing after the other, until the whole world feels as if it’s coming down directly on you. The new film by Korean writer-director Kim Seong-Hun, A Hard Day, aims to create a Hitchcockian thriller of building tension, but instead crafts a mostly uneven film with flourishes of cinematic brilliance.

The film opens with Go Gun-Soo (Lee Sun-Kyun) driving while talking on his cell phone. In mourning following the death of his mother, Go is in a hurry to get somewhere, though it’s not exactly clear at first where or why. After narrowing avoiding a cute little puppy in the middle of the road, Go hits someone in the road. Panicked, Go decides against calling the police, wraps the body up and places it in his trunk. This is the first area that A Hard Day runs into trouble, as the motivations as to why Go avoids calling the police aren’t exactly clear. That’s all established in the following scenes, as if the opening was constructed backwards. His windshield cracked and headlight out, Go then finds himself at a DUI checkpoint. It’s here that we learn that he’s a cop, and he’s had a little bit to drink – all of which would make his earlier decisions a lot clearer had we known them. It also turns out that Go and his co-workers are under investigation by internal affairs for accepting bribes, which is another detail that would’ve helped out earlier.

After escaping the DUI checkpoint, Go then undergoes the disgraceful act of placing the body of the man that he hit in the same casket as his mother. Once he thinks all is behind him, a cellphone starts ringing from within the casket. Luckily, the phone stops ringing and his mother is eventually buried. With his mother buried and the problems with internal affairs resolved by fellow officer Park Chang-Min (Cho Jin-Woong), Go can get back to normal. But Go and his fellow officers are ordered to investigate a missing person, one that Go knows all too well – the man he ran over days before. In the midst of all that, Go starts receiving mysterious calls about his hit and run experience. Now he must figure out who is trying to blackmail him before it ruins his professional and personal life.

Director Kim Seong-Hun is much more adept at escalating tension than he is at establishing it. Even more distressing, his instincts as a storyteller undermine the things he does right. This is especially apparent at the ending, where an effective, natural ending gives way to a twist and another series of endings – seriously, there are like 6 different endings to this movie. Despite the wobbly storytelling, there are moments featuring a nice car chase, and few other shocking moments of action – there’s an explosion that is worthy of Breaking Bad in its set up and execution. The rest of the film, however, isn’t worthy of Breaking Bad.

Even with its minor triumphs, there’s little to warrant a recommendation within A Hard Day. From its misleading title (the film takes place over many days) to its over-exaggerated lead performance, A Hard Day falls short of making the audience invested in its proceedings. This is a film that attempts to burden the audience like it burdens its character, mounding complications on top of each other. All those complications, though, make A Hard Day an uneven movie undermined by poor storytelling decisions.

A Hard Day opens in select theaters on July 15th. For more information go here.

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