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Fantasia 2015 Review: A Hard Day Makes It Look Easy

By  · Published on August 9th, 2015

Kino Lorber

Follow our Fantasia International Film Festival coverage here.

Detective Ko Gun-soo (Lee Sun-gyun) is not having a good day. He’s forced to race back and forth between his own mother’s funeral and the police station where internal affairs investigators are tearing apart his desk, but on a dark stretch of road along the way things go from very bad to much worse. He hits and kills a pedestrian, and as a car approaches the scene – and knowing he was drinking at the funeral – he panics and conceals the body in his trunk. When he gets word that the IA officers are coming to search his car he panics again and moves the corpse someplace even cozier.

And then the threatening phone calls start from someone claiming to have witnessed the whole thing.

If A Hard Day sounds like a Korean mash-up of After Hours and I Know What You Did Last Summer, well, that’s not too far off in regard to the setup. One guy’s bad luck makes him regret even getting out of bed in the morning, and that misfortune is then magnified by the presence of a maniacal killer who uses Gun-soo’s guilt to trap him. Writer/director Kim Seong-hoon kicks things into high gear though with an action/thriller that rarely lets up until the end credits.

It’s a minor miracle for a nearly two-hour film to maintain the pace present here, but the combination of action, plot turns and morbid humor work together like a well-oiled machine whose only job is to keep viewers tense, smiling and excited for whatever comes next.

The action beats avoid the need to grow in scale for the sole reason of growing in scale and instead feel tight and grounded. Their small size doesn’t preclude their entertainment value though as cat and mouse chases, hand to hand brawls and more serve as a reminder that Gun-soo is no super hero. We already know he’s morally suspect, but watching him have his ass handed to him more than once is a refreshing change from the invincible protagonists we’re accustomed to.

Like the action set-pieces, the film never finds it necessary to inflate the narrative conflict beyond necessity. The situation grows and changes in some smart and fun directions, but the core remains simple and straight-forward. As it is, Gun-soo has his hands full juggling his quickly crumbling life, and that’s more than enough to not only hold but to captivate our attention.

Lee brings just the right amount of humanity to the character too. His ambition and culpability are recognizable, and we’re able to enjoy both his missteps and victories in equal measure. One minute we’re wincing at his decision, and the next we’re laughing along with his relief at having out-maneuvered his opponent. “Gun-soo, be cool!” he tells himself nervously, and we can’t help but cheer this poor, misfortunate fool on further. He deftly manages Gun-soo’s cockiness, fear and sense of humor, and when the time comes to react with intense seriousness he delivers there too.

Cho Jin-woong gets the more relaxed half of the equation – at least at first – as the mysterious antagonist. He’s in control thanks to Gun-soo’s guilt, and he uses that pressure in creatively cruel ways. His character is up to some dark deeds, but Cho still finds the humor in toying with his prey including a bathroom interaction featuring a brilliantly funny moment between the cocky Gun-soo and mischievous Park Chang-min (Cho).

An English-language remake of A Hard Day is unnecessary, but if it has to happen American producers can rest easy knowing Kim’s film has already done all of the heavy lifting. Cast Sam Rockwell in the lead, American-ize the script details and shoot it exactly as is – honest, it’s easy.

Follow our Fantasia International Film Festival coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.