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Hard Day, A

Kino // Unrated // November 24, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

We've all had one of those days where it seems as if nothing's going the way we'd like, but sometimes we tend to ignore that those days are, in actuality, the product of our own mistakes, the consequences of previous decisions stacking atop one another. That's precisely the kind of day the main character's having in South Korea's A Hard Day (aka Take It to the End) -- which probably should've been titled A Hard Day ... And It's All My Fault -- revolving around a police officer who gets involved in a hit-and-run manslaughter and scrambles to cover it up, all while a bystander attempts to blackmail him with the information. The craftsmanship at work in Kim Seong-hun's thriller yields plenty of tension and black comedy from end to end, crafting a brisk experience that never really pumps the breaks on its momentum; however, the fact that so much of this "hard day" revolves around questionable circumstances, poor decision-making, and superhuman feats detract from its overall impact, resulting in fierce but dubious suspense.

Granted, everything about this messy twenty-four hours isn't entirely the fault of Detective Ko Gun-soo (Lee Sun-kyun), who's also mourning the death of his mother on the day of her funeral. In a shaken mindset and working against the clock to arrive at the ceremony -- already attended by his sister and daughter -- he accidentally hits somebody in the middle of a dark street along the way. Coupled with his time constraints and questionable standing with the homicide department, Detective Gun-soo instead decides it'd be better to hurl the body into his trunk and dispose of it later on, unbeknownst of who the person is and the caliber of the obstacles that await him. Just as it seems as if he might pull off the cover-up, a phone call arrives at the precinct from someone who witnessed the incident, proceeding to threaten the detective's livelihood unless he cooperates. Reluctantly, Detective Gun-soo tries to investigate the blackmailer while also troubleshooting the caller's demands: to bring them the body.

The premise sounds pretty grim -- the accidental homicide and blackmail following around a grieving single-father detective at a time when he really doesn't deserve it -- but A Hard Day frequently uses that tone as a vehicle for deadpan humor and outrageous suspense. Kim Seong-hun's script injects levity into the ominous situation with renegade remote-controlled toy soldiers, inopportunely-placed cellphones, and strategically-placed batches of balloons, drawing one's attention to the possibilities of what other shenanigans the scenario could feasibly produce. On the other hand, they also distract from the numerous lapses in practicality within the situations that Detective Gun-soo and the deadweight of his cargo get cornered into, leaving the film scurrying in the middle ground between the realistic mechanics of the situation and elevated shock-value antics. This results in unpredictable, engaging thrills that muster a lot of raw black-comedy energy, never veering into boredom with the directions taken.

A lot of what happens in A Hard Day ends up being the result, the fault, of Detective Gun-soo being wrapped up in a corrupt police department, leaving one uncertain of how to feel about the main character and the trouble he brings upon himself later on. To bolster the film's pace and keep those watching from dwelling on the particulars, director Kim Seong-hun conveniently cuts away and jumps ahead during critical junctures in the detective's problematic twenty-four hours, unjustifiably getting him through road blocks and internal affairs' investigations when they really should've complicated his life much more than they do. The film also has the tendency of executing just enough police work to spice things up yet not enough to actually get the job done, where the connection of events predominately relies on the errors of law enforcement to keep them moving along. None of their dull corruption -- bribes and other under-the-table dealings -- accomplishes much more than making them seem dirty and unskilled, though, enough to excuse the cracks exposed by Detective Gun-soo's situation.

A Hard Day also struggles in communicating the panic of the detective's cover-up maneuvers and the degree that it goes unnoticed around his fellow cops, touching on the complicated balance between what to show the audience and how to maintain a believable atmosphere. From the moment he plows into his John Doe, Lee Sun-kyun telegraphs a twitchy, alarmed performance that should naturally draw a lot of suspicion in a precinct full of corrupt cops -- especially in the midst of Internal Affairs scrutiny -- yet it largely gets disregarded or outright overlooked. The exchange, of course, comes in the fact that we're allowed to observe the unfiltered anxiety of a guy dealing with stress beyond his threshold, yielding a lot of gratifying surges of sweaty, wide-eyed suspense amid ringing phones and rifling through evidence at the office. His persona practically broadcasts that he's hiding something, though, and only so much of that can be brushed aside due to the loss of his mother, another example of the writer/director leaning on an unconvincing excuse to keep the thrills coming.

And come they do, especially once the identity of the blackmailer steps into the light. Yet, like many other mysteries, A Hard Day gets too wrapped up in the inventiveness of zany circumstances to nail its landing as a credible whodunit, relying on peculiar happenstance to fuel the motivations of Detective Gun-Soo's foe. Following a reveal that's both anticlimactic and erroneous, the tension continues to escalate with a loosening grasp on practicality, weakening the detective's grasp on the situation and beefing up his antagonist's physical and strategic capabilities to significant degrees. Chaos takes over in a rambunctious conclusion that checks off necessary boxes -- a brutal fistfight, a monumental explosion, power fluctuations between the two up until the bitter end -- which, by way of Lee Sun-kyun's direction, never loses energy nor its ability to surprise as it stays true to the film's title. Alas, it's hard to shake off that our detective's day really wouldn't have been so hard with a little more cleverness and less naivete.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Kino/Lorber certainly don't have a difficult time with their high-definition transfer for A Hard Day. The cinematography isn't particularly inventive most of the time, only playing with a few artistic shots of fish tanks and sunsets between stretches of camerawork weaving through the urban setting, but the 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC handling on what's there projects razor-sharp details, nimble and responsive skin tones, and phenomenally versatile contrast balance. Black levels are rich and solid in creation of natural nighttime sequences, rarely intruding on details within, while the daytime and interior shadows are impeccably handled and emphasize a phenomenal caliber of depth. Sharp objects in the coffin, the toy soldier, flying birds and phone wires are impeccably tight, while the color shades and details against phone-booth glass and foliage are impressively convincing. Close-ups are outstanding, though, the source of most of the film's high-def impressions, with skin and hair textures incredibly natural throughout. They've done a terrific, balanced job with this transfer.

A number of robust aural elements barrel through A Hard Day, all of which are tackled with aplomb by the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track at work here. The screeching of tires and the loud thump of a body in the opening scene provide one of the strongest examples, of course, employing a healthy amount of surround activity and deep, chest-thumping usage of the lower channel. Honking horns, jingling keys, and the electronic fire of a toy solider provide restrained but sharp effects at the center of the stage, exhibiting fine separation across the front speakers, while the rear allows the ambience of the city setting, offices, and apartments to occasionally emerge from underneath the pulsing thriller soundtrack. Explosions, however, are always a big centerpiece, the few of which are in the film commanding an immense presence across the stage. Dialogue remains incredibly well-balanced and free of distortion, backed by legible and grammatically on-point subtitles. The Korean language track is available in 5.1 and 2.0 variants, but only with optional English subtitles.

Special Features:

Aside from a series of nine Deleted Scenes (23:21; 16x HD) and a Theatrical Trailer (1:36; 16x9 HD), Kino/Lorber have also included a pair of other featurettes for A Hard Day. Chief of those being Making of A Hard Day (17:29, 16x9 HD), where director Kim Seong-hun discusses his external and sometimes unlikely influences for the project, actor Lee Sun-kyun delves into the comedy and suspense balance, and making the audience sympathize for our antihero with some visceral and smartly-choreographed brutality. Behind-the-scenes shots are infused with the interviews in a traditional manner, yet the tempo and substance of the discussions elevates this piece to another level. The other, Bad vs. Worst (7:24, 16x9 HD), follows a similar structure with much more surface-level and congratulatory dialogue with the cast/crew, also peppered with other off-camera shots.

Final Thoughts:

Raw modern suspense and dark humor course through A Hard Day, but it lacks the intelligence, the depth, and grasp on realism that would take this detective's hit-and-run cover-up to another level. Kino/Lorber's Blu-ray is excellent, which will make this a satisfying Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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