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'A Hard Day': Cannes Review

A HARD DAY Still Cannes - H 2014
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes

The Bottom Line

Classy Korean crime caper comes to Cannes.

Release date

May 29 (South Korea)

Venue

Cannes film festival (Directors' Fortnight)

Cast

Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Jeong Man-shik, Sin Jeong-geun

Director

Kim Seong-hun

This slick, dynamic, twist-heavy police thriller combines supercharged suspense with flashes of dark humor.

CANNES – This year's Cannes festival is unusually light on Korean titles, with only two in the official selection, July Jung's small-town mystery A Girl at My Door and Chang's action remake The Target. Further down the Croisette in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar, meanwhile, Kim Seong-hun's A Hard Day offers a masterclass in throat-squeezing, stomach-knotting suspense.

Kim's second feature is essentially a genre thriller, but a superior example loaded with smart plot twists, dark humor and high-gloss visuals. The unlikely spark for the basic story was a scene in Pedro Almodovar's Volver, which must be a first for a Korean action movie. Opening domestically a week after Cannes, commercial prospects in overseas markets are potentially rich with the right marketing. An English-language remake might also make good business sense.

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The hard day of the title is really the start of a fraught couple of weeks for Seoul homicide detective Ko Gun-su (Lee Sun-kyun). Driving to his mother's funeral, he knocks down a stranger in an apparently fatal hit-and-run collision. In a semi-drunken panic, he jams the dead man into the trunk of his car, a frantic mistake that triggers a sequence of increasingly audacious plot twists. Over the next few days, Ko finds himself desperately digging up graves, staging fake traffic accidents, dangling from skyscrapers and fighting for his life as a remorseless blackmailer bombards him with anonymous phone calls about the dead man.

To give away more detail would risk spoilers, but A Hard Day is full of smart surprises and darkly funny lurches. The script includes some familiar cop-movie ingredients, including a team of crooked anti-hero detectives facing an Internal Affairs probe and an all-powerful villain whose shadow empire includes drugs, prostitution and Yakuza gangsters. But Kim treats these big-screen cliches as mere rocket fuel to ramp up tension levels from ominous rumble to deafening roar.

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A Hard Day is swept along by Mok Young-in's poundingly percussive score and Kim Tae-sung's elegant cinematography, which includes some eye-catching rooftop shots and handsome hillside vistas around Seoul. In accordance with genre rules, it also features explosions, shock fatalities and more jumpy false endings than Fatal Attraction. Kim's classy cop caper is certainly not the deepest movie in Cannes, but it is a dynamic and highly enjoyable rollercoaster ride.

Production companies: AD406, Dasepo Club
Cast: Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Jeong Man-shik, Sin Jeong-geun
Director: Kim Seong-hun
Screenwriter: Kim Seong-hun
Producers: Cha Ji-hyun, Billy Acumen
Cinematographer: Kim Tae-sung
Editor: Kim Chang-ju
Music: Mok Young-in
Sales company: Showbox / Mediaplex
No rating, 111 minutes