February 21, 2016

A Hard Day: Not-So-Good Cop, Not-So-Bad Cop

At what point does a sleazy cop (Lee Sun-kyun) who's committed a hit-and-run murder become sympathetic to you? Is it after you've realized that the person he's accidentally killed is a serial killer? Or is it once you've learned that the phone caller (Jo Jin-woong) harassing him for committing said reprehensible crime has a more sordid history in — and outside — the police department that employs them both? Or is it, sentimentalist that you are, when the car-crashing cop's innocent family is threatened by the unknown witness to his crime? For me, that turning point never happened. And that's not a bad thing.

In a world that appears to embrace antiheroes because of their charm, their snappy one-liners, and their adherence to a dubious moral code, A Hard Day feels refreshing for having a protagonist who is, when you stop to think about it, pretty irredeemable. He's a self-absorbed, petty, disrespectful bully who you're happy to see get his just desserts even as you wish the same unfortunate comeuppance for his nemesis. When the two butt heads, you wish they'll both get concussions in the process. The closest writer-direct Kim Seong-hoon's highly entertaining thriller comes to sympathetic characters are the understatedly hunky detective (Jeong Man-sik) who's left a trail of receipts documenting his illegal use of government funds to hire prostitutes, and the squad chief (Sin Jeong-geun) who apparently will look the other way, regardless of the crime. The rest of the department is pretty forgettable.

In a nice Aristotelian touch, the entire action of A Hard Day is supposed to take place within one single day. (Hence, the title.) Although that feels highly unlikely, it does give the action a sense of speed that heightens the excitement. One assumes, the lead character will deal with the divorce papers he's served early on tomorrow.

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