Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New treat from South Korea: Kim Seong-hun's clever, action-packed thriller, A HARD DAY

The continuing parade of Korean movies worth seeing hits a high-point of delight with the new actionful, alternately noirish and highly amusing thriller, A HARD DAY from writer/director Kim Seong-hun. All about the very difficult night, day and continuing span of time that our quite beleaguered hero, a police detective, is having -- the movie offers one thing after another going wildly wrong for this guy. When at last our hero cries, "Gimme a beak!" the phrase will seldom have sounded so plaintive -- nor funny.

This is because filmmaker Kim (shown at right) has found just about the perfect combination of tone and pace for this whirlwind of action, event, chase, and bizarrely unfurling plot that makes up the movie. Full of the kind of coincidence and convolution that keeps things cooking, the story gets better and bolder as it moves along. Coming in just under two hours (relatively short for a Korean film), Mr. Kim leaves his best stuff for the last, while ensuring that what precedes this is plenty good enough to keep us hooked.

His hero, played, with an increasing proclivity to appear unhinged. by a smart and unusually unassuming actor, Lee Sun-kyun (above), is most ably abetted by his co-star and nemesis, played by Cho Jin-woong (below). You could not ask for a better set of leading men than these two, whose crack performances compliment each other beautifully.

These two make up most of the movie all by themselves, with a good supporting cast of characters that includes wife, daughter and various police co-workers and bosses. But it's that delicious plot that hooks you and keeps you hanging on -- from the funeral scene, in which our hero's dead mom gets a bed-mate in her casket via a GI Joe toy, to foot and car chases filled with a rare combination of tension and delight.

Visually, the filmmaker does what he needs to but occasionally also tosses in a technically wondrous long shot to take our breath away. He also has fun with some Korean stereotypes: "Cops aren't gangsters!" notes our hero, with some anger. Really? Let's find out.

Mister Kim's movie is also full of little surprises and a lot of humor -- from a fortune teller's on-the-mark vision to the location of a missing key. And there's one scene in which you just know that a certain car is about to blow up, and the suspense keep building nicely. Then, hmmm... not quite.

The climax is a fine one -- except, there's more. And the rest is even better -- one of the most tactile, visceral, mano a mano combats yet seen, which is, at the same time, wonderfully clever and funny. If you don't yet know about the South Korean movie renaissance of the past decade or two, here's a good place to begin your education. If you're already a fan of this country's cinema, you'll be lining up for more.

A Hard Day -- from Kino Lorber, in Korean with English subtitles and running 112  minutes -- opens this Friday, July 17, in New York City at the Village East Cinema, with a limited national release to follow soon.

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