A Hard Day (끝까지 간다, Kim Sung-hoon, 2014)

2014 - A Hard Day (still 2)In an unprecedented level of activity, here is another review up on UK-anime.net – this time Korean black comedy crime thriller, A Hard Day (끝까지 간다, Kkeutkkaji Ganda) which was shown at the London Film Festival and the London Korean Film Festival and is now out on DVD from Studio Canal.

For most people, a “hard day” probably means things like not being able to find a parking space, missing your train, the office coffee machine being broken and your boss having a mental breakdown right on the office floor but for not-totally-honest-but-sort-of-OK Seoul policeman Gun-su “hard” doesn’t quite begin to cover it.

Gun-su is driving furiously and arguing with his wife on the phone because he’s skipped out on his own mother’s funeral to rush to “an important work matter” which just happens to be that he has the only key to a drawer which contains some dodgy stuff it would have been better for internal affairs not to find – and internal affairs are on their way to have a look right now. So pre-occupied with the funeral, probable career ending misery and the possibility of dropping his fellow squad members right in it, Gun-su is driving way too fast. Consequently he hits something which turns out to be man. Totally stressed out by this point, Gun-su does the most sensible thing possible and puts the body in the boot of his car and continues on to the police station. Just when he thinks he’s finally gotten away with these very difficult circumstances, things only get worse as the guy the he knocked over turns out to be the wanted felon his now disgraced team have been assigned to track down. Oh, and then it turns out somebody saw him take the body too and is keen on a spot of blackmail. Really, you couldn’t make it up!

Some might say the Korean crime thriller format is all played out by this point, but what A Hard Day brings to the genre is a slice of totally black humour that you rarely see these days. Gun-su is obviously not an honest guy, but he’s not a criminal mastermind either and his fairly haphazard way of finding interesting solutions to serious problems is a joy to watch. This isn’t the first film where someone happens on the idea of hiding a body in a coffin, but it might be the first where said person uses a set of yellow balloons to block a security camera, his daughter’s remote control soldier to pull a body through an air conditioning duct and his shoelaces to prize the wooden nails out of his own mother’s coffin to safely deposit an inconvenient corpse inside. Gun-su (mostly) manages to stay one step ahead of whatever’s coming for him, albeit almost by accident and with Clouseau like ability to emerge unscathed from every deadly scrape. He’s definitely only slightly on the right side of the law but still you can’t help willing him on in his ever more dastardly deeds as he tries to outwit his mysterious opponent.

Though it does run a little long, refreshingly the plot remains fairly tight though it is literally one thing after another for poor old Gun-su. A blackly comic police thriller, A Hard Day isn’t claiming to be anything other than a genre piece but it does what it does with a healthy degree of style and confidence. The action scenes are well done and often fairly spectacular but they never dominate the film, taking a back seat to some cleverly crafted character dynamics. Frequent Hong Sang-soo collaborator Lee Sung-kyun excels as the slippery Gun-su whose chief weapon is his utter desperation while his nemesis, played by Cho Jing-woong, turns in an appropriately menacing turn as a seemingly omniscient master criminal.

Yes, A Hard Day contains a number of standard genre tropes that some may call clichés, but it uses them with such finesse that impossible not to be entertained by them. Bumbling, corrupt policemen come up against unstoppable criminals only to find their detective bones reactivating at exactly the wrong moment and threatening to make everything ten times worse while the situation snowballs all around them. However, A Hard Day also has its cheeky and subversive side and ends on a brilliantly a-moralistic note that one doesn’t normally associate with Korean cinema in particular. It may not be the most original of films, but A Hard Day is heaps of morbidly comic fun!

Seven Psychopaths – LFF 2012

I won’t lie – I almost didn’t go to this screening as I’d seen a lot of ‘worst film I’ve even seen’ comments coming in from various festivals and then from the LFF press screening and I wasn’t sure I was definitely going to be able to make it. However being a huge fan of McDonagh’s stage work (I count the original production of The Pillowman at the RNT one of the theatre going highlights of my life) there was no way I was never going to see this film. Although I wasn’t as enamoured with In Bruges as many people were – mostly because I missed the sense of anarchy from his stage productions – I’d been looking forward to his next film for some time. Seven Psychopaths plays out almost like a big screen version of Lieutenant of Inishmore only it’s a missing dog rather than a cat and psycho crook rather than a guy who was thrown out of the IRA for ‘being too mad’ with a whole load of metatextual commentary  going on. Oh and bloody violence, lots of that, alongside totally absurd, jet black humour – yep, that’s a McDonagh script!

Marty (Farrell) has some problems. The first of which being that he’s way behind on a screenplay he’s supposed to have delivered already – in fact he hasn’t even started it, well he has the title ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Only he’s only come up with the one – a Buddhist psychopath but he can’t work out how all the homicidal mania and enlightenment go together. Besides which he really wants to write a film that’s not all guns and violence, one that’s about peace and love and humanity. His second problem is drink, which is possibly part of the cause of his first problem. His third problem is a incredibly poor choice in friends – i.e. an out of work actor, Billy Bickle (Rockwell), who makes his money through a dog kidnapping scam and thinks a really great way to help with the psycho problem is to take out an ad asking for the biggest psychos around to call Marty’s own number and offer their stories for the film. One day however Billy and his friend Hans (Walken) are going to mess with the wrong guy’s dog and drag Marty into a whole world of psychopathic violence and general existential despair.

Yes, like its filmic counterpart the Seven Psychopaths that we are watching is a film about humanity and friendship and art that ended up having lots of guns and violence and blood in it anyway. There’s a great moment near the beginning where Billy and Marty are discussing the screenplay problem whilst sitting in a virtually empty cinema watching Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop and Marty insists he doesn’t want the film to be all about guys with guns in their hands. The violence is inevitable though as the two tussle over how the film’s going to end – in a hail of bullets or with a fireside heart to heart.

You might think so far so nineties Tarantino with its long stretches of stylised dialogue and classic/cult film references but it’s much less alienating than Tarantino’s approach and somehow manages to be both reflexive yet unpretentious. It’s much all less obvious and if it’s winking at you it’s doing it without looking you in the eye and certainly without waiting for you to wink back. The absurdity of the piece feels totally natural and effortlessly constructed so that all the crazy goings on just seem to roll together with a feeling of ‘of course, it must be so’.

Seven Psychopaths is a totally insane thrill ride of a movie – the sort of film where you feel like jumping up with arms stretched out to the sky and shouting YES! as soon as it’s finished. It’s a fair assumption that a lot of people won’t like this film, it strikes a very specific tone that you either go with or don’t and even those who admired In Bruges might find themselves lost in this film’s comparative lack of control. However, Seven Psychopaths is a hilariously funny black comedy that’s also very smart in its criticism both of itself and of cinema in general. Destined to become a cult classic this is one film too much to miss!