'A Day' ('Ha-Roo'): Film Review

Courtesy of Fantasia Festival
A strong entry into the ranks of 'Groundhog Day' descendants.

A desperate father relives the day of his daughter's death in Cho Sun-ho's time-loop action pic.

Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Groundhog Day-style plots, with both tiny indies and major Hollywood productions sticking their heroes in time loops that threaten to replay the same day over and over into infinity. First-time filmmaker Cho Sun-ho finds something to add to this mini-genre with A Day, in which a man desperately reliving the day of his daughter's death soon learns that another man's tragic time-loop intersects his own. Despite some regional ingredients (musical, for the most part) that won't play as well in the States, the South Korean import has plenty of appeal for English speakers and could well attract remake interest.

Kim Myung-min plays Jun-young, a famous surgeon just returning home after a long stint doing charity work overseas. He's eager to reconnect with his teenage daughter Eun-jung (Jo Eun-hyung), who resents his absence — but before he can make it from the airport to the park where they're to meet, the girl has been hit in the street by a taxi and killed. Jun-young then reawakens back on the plane, where he's about to live this traumatic morning all over again.

Cho quickly gets past the point at which his hero grasps what's going on and starts trying to change the course of events. Each time he finds himself back at the start, Jun-young tries a new way of preventing his daughter from reaching that crosswalk. His efforts get impressively clever, but nothing works. He's racked with despair on his umpteenth attempt, mourning at the site of the accident, when an ambulance driver accosts him: "Don't you remember me?!," the man says. The EMT (Byun Yo-han's Min-chul) has been reliving this day as well, suffering through the death of his estranged wife, the passenger in the taxi that hit Eun-jung.

This revelation opens the door to myriad entertaining opportunities in Cho's script. As the two men team up, gathering information in each new iteration that will help them in the next, the film becomes less focused on action than on mystery: The losses these men experience are not random, but it will take much for them to understand what has brought them together and how they might try to free themselves.

As the story turns in directions that shouldn't be hinted at here, viewers may find themselves observing what look like minor plot holes or problems with motivation. But the pic's heady momentum and fine perfs by the leads push such concerns aside, leaving them to feature in wasn't-that-fun debates after the film. Cho fares surprisingly well as the story pushes into themes of guilt, revenge and forgiveness, finding a resolution that is both unexpected and poignant. One fears for the point at which eternal-loop films might become as common and predictable as found-footage thrillers, but A Day suggests the trope has plenty of mileage left.

Production company: Film Line
Cast: Kim Myung-min, Byun Yo-han, Jo Eun-hyung
Director-screenwriter: Cho Sun-ho
Producers: Ji-eun Song
Composer: Mowg
Venue: Fantasia International Film Festival
Sales: Fine Cut

In Korean
90 minutes