AFI Fest 2014: ‘A Hard Day’

Alexander had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, but at least it didn’t involve murder and blackmail. Alexander and his family survived their day with strengthened familial bonds by nightfall, but things are markedly different for the man in “A Hard Day”

The Korean name for this movie translates as “Take It to the End” and our protagonist Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun)  is a homicide detective who has just committed a homicide.  His hard day begins at night. The death may have been an accident, but the detective the way to his mother’s funeral and decides to hide the body in his trunk. Is he having a nervous breakdown? He has a chance to come clean when he’s stopped by fellow officers, but he doesn’t. He can’t. He is guilty of other things and the body is getting in the way of his cover up.

Still, he has to make the funeral and he has to get rid of the body. You see where this is going, right? If he’s on his way to a place with dead bodies, what’s one more body?  This leads to an inventive interlude where our anxious and sweaty detective uses a toy to help hide the body. Here one must give kudos to the director because the black comedy here doesn’t seem out of place or detract from the suspense.

Director Kim Seong-hun has created a tense and moody thriller. We learn soon enough why this detective wants to hide this accident–he’s part of a corrupt squad room that is now under investigation. The accident is an inconvenience. Go doesn’t want to attract attention to himself. Yet someone witnessed the accident and threatens to expose the detective. His squad are not friends; they are feeling the pressure and more than willing to betray each other to save themselves. There’s a moment when the claustrophobia of local corruption seems blown open, but that’s due to a translation error. According to my friend Seongyong Cho, the movie is about local mobsters even though the English subtitles use the word “yakuza.” The Japanese mobsters aren’t involved here.

This isn’t a case of good cop bad cop, but bad cop worse cop. You’re not really cheering for Go, but just wondering if he will survive his hard day and what waits for him at the end.

The movie was show at Cannes under Director’s Fortnight. The movie has been nominated for seven Grand Bell Awards by the Motion Pictures Association of Korea, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. In Korean with subtitles. This movie also screened at the AFI Film Festival 2014.

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