Geon-soo (played by Lee Sun-kyun) is a bad cop. He's not even a particularly likable bad cop from a cinematic standpoint. The man's an abrasive bully who uses all the power at his disposal to evade punishment for something that technically probably wasn't even a crime. Geon-soo's job is to enforce the law, yet he shows no respect for it himself, expecting special treatment as a matter of course just because of who he is.
To be fair, Geon-soo does have some interesting characteristics. It turns out the bully pulpit alone isn't enough to evade his crimes, and the man is forced to resort to increasingly bizarre schemes in order to pull off a cover up. There's a constant feeling of "this plan really shouldn't work" that's reenforced by the sheer number of times someone almost stumbles onto his ridiculous plot, yet Geon-soo is able to pull just enough luck out that he's able to stumble forward to the next scene.
This element is where "A Hard Day" is as its strongest. Geon-soo is his own worst enemy. Every problem he meets is a direct consequence of his own prior action. Doing the wrong thing, as it turns out, involves a great deal more work, stress, and risk than if he'd just honestly reported the accident in the first place. I can't quite recall the last time I enjoyed seeing a character suffer so much for his own poor choices. I was often torn between wanting him to get caught and wanting him to succeed so he would have to endure the next stage of his ill-conceived plan.
Unfortunately Geon-soo is such a compelling antagonist that when the actual antagonist shows up the movie gets to be a lot less fun. This isn't a problem with the acting of Cho Jin-woong as villain Chang-min. His performance is as good as any. The trouble is that his character quite literally comes out of nowhere and proceeds to spin the plot in a really convoluted direction, so that instead of being a story about one man circumventing the law, it's about an entire criminal empire.
I'm really not sure how I was supposed to feel about Geon-soo for the second half of the movie. Is he supposed to be the hero now? Because there's another guy that happens to be more evil than him? Chang-min as a whole tends to be a lot more charismatic and straightforward than the weasel-like Geon-soo, so this entire turnabout ends up being very difficult to process.
"A Hard Day" ends up turning into a rather odd contradiction. A lot of effort is extended establishing the fact that Geon-soo is a bully and a coward who deserves constant comeuppance. And while this happens organically enough at the beginning, in the second half he's "punished" in the sense that Geon-soo is now the lead character in an action thriller, complete with stock tropes like the unkillable antagonist. At least writer / director Kim Seong-hun's sense of action design remains intact. I guess that's something, even if the actual story falters in increasingly disappointing ways.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "A Hard Day""
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