A Hard Day
Directed by Kim Seong-Hoon
Opens July 17 at the Village East
A Hard Day’s title is somewhat misleading: the 24-hour period in which homicide detective Go (Lee Sun-kyun) kills a man while speeding, possibly under the influence, away from his mother’s funeral and back to police headquarters, in order to hide evidence of his unit’s corruption from Internal Affairs, is over within the first thirty or so minutes of Kim Seong-Hoon’s black-comic thriller. But the film maintains its momentum thereafter, with a finger-trap murder inquiry and blackmail scheme, cleverly interwoven and made constricting moment-to-moment with recursive obstacles—it’s the kind of movie in which a character who must load a gun must first, invariably, decide whether or not to retrieve the bullet he’s just fumbled away. It plays like a feature-length version of Robert Walker losing Farley Granger’s cigarette lighter down the storm drain in Strangers on a Train.
As with that film, the experience of watching A Hard Day is equal parts the squeamish anxiety of waiting for it to be over, and objective admiration of the contraption. Kim, who stages two separate deftly edited close-combat sequences in bathrooms, plays up the pleasure alongside the pain in his self-aware setpieces. The film’s early peak, nervously cross-cut to a literally ticking clock, involves a remote-controlled toy soldier and the desecration of more than one corpse; it’s staged with physical precision down to Go’s snapping shoelaces, atop a baseline of simultaneous inappropriateness and logistical complication.
The other, related lesson of Hitchcock that Kim toys with is that a person in a bind is inherently sympathetic. That Go’s terrible, horrible day is largely a consequence of him being a no-good, very bad person—and that he later tortures an interviewee—is eclipsed as his blackmailer looms into the frame, helpfully clad in all black. But the filmmaker is all the while holding onto a feather of temptation to tickle his concluding notes of redemption.
If A Hard Day’s entrapments seems at times dependent upon some dubious decision-making on the parts of its characters, their orchestration is nevertheless airtight. It’s punctuated throughout by the staccato interruptions of smartphones set to silent, vibrating like ominous distant footsteps.