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Within the first three minutes of the Korean film A Hard Day, the main character says to himself, “What a fucking day!”
Uh oh. Are we about to cut to Sam Worthington on a ledge?
Kim Seong-hun’s thriller isn’t quite that bad. But by the time the credits roll, there’s enough fisticuffs, gun-scrambling, and resurrections to rival the schlockiest Hollywood film.
The movie centers on a victim of Murphy’s Law, that lovely phenomenon that might cause you to wake up late, your flat-iron to short, your promotion to fall through, and your third eye to erupt in a rocket-red pimple just before a first date.
Or maybe your department gets investigated for corruption on the night before your late mother’s interment, and when you’re driving to the funeral home to watch her be placed in a casket, you hit and kill a man, then throw his corpse in your trunk because you’re in a hurry.
Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun), a detective, is that unlikely hit-and-run perpetrator—and this is merely the film’s setup, not spoilers. He rigs things up so awfully (or laughably, depending on your mood) that he ends up stashing the body beside Mom’s and carrying on without arousing suspicion. But someone knows what he did last night.
A Hard Day offers a decent, if a bit too neat, mystery once the inevitable threat comes a-calling. (And for what feels like forever, calling is all he does. The movie might as well have been titled The Ominous Phones.) The accident takes place on a dark rural road with no one around. Gun-su manages to slide that man right into the casket, and even though the dead dude’s own phone rings a few times, it stops before any other family members or funeral directors return to the room.
Once we identify the caller, a guy named Park (Jo Jin-woong), the film teases out why he’s after Gun-su. But when that’s cleared up, A Hard Day overstays its welcome, leaving viewers puzzling at the protagonist’s nonsensical logic. The violence is ludicrous, too: One character gains access to a forklift and a car-sized brick of concrete with alarming ease, and somehow predicts exactly where the driver of the doomed car will park.
Lee’s overacting ratchets up with each new discovery until he’s practically “The Scream” personified. Gun-su and his nemesis are the only real characters here; his colleagues occasionally show up to give the jumpy detective guff, and he has a sister and daughter, but only when it’s convenient to the plot.
The film’s dialogue is too ridiculous to stomach, especially when Park, trying to stall Gun-su, says the soup at a nearby diner is—well, we’ll never know, because Gun-su interrupts with a shrieking “I don’t want any!” And either the subtitling crew took the exchange rate very seriously or Gun-su has a thing for random numbers: “I bet $180 that you’ll at least get a life sentence!”
Or perhaps that’s a joke from the translators to the distributor, wagering that A Hard Day’s opening box office take won’t even net two Benjamins.
A Hard Day opens Friday at the Angelika Pop-Up.