Paloma de Papel (Paper Dove)

Part travelogue, part political statement, part coming-of-age drama —Marty Mapes (review...)

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When as many things go wrong as they do to Gun-su (Sun-kyun Lee), you’re sure to have a hard day — especially if you’re trying to dispose of a corpse.

It Begins...

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrung
Whatever can go wrong, will go wrung

Gun-su (spelled Geon-soo on IMDB but Gun-su in the subtitles) is a homicide detective. He’s married with children. His mother has just died. Driving between funerary obligations, Gun-su swerves on a dark, wet road to miss a dog, only to run into a man.

He might not have launched such a hard day, if only.... If only he had taken a moment to inspect the corpse, he might have seen that the man had more injuries than being hit by a car could explain. If only he had been a more honest cop, he might have accepted the consequences of an honest accident.

Instead, Gun-su panicked when he saw a police car approaching. He covered the body and hid. To his immediate relief, the police car turned before reaching him.

Now in panic mode, Gun-su puts the corpse in his trunk, reassures his daughter via phone about the cake he promised to bring to grandma’s burial, and hurries off to the mortuary. He turns corner and sees... a sobriety checkpoint. Curse that traditional sip at funerals!

Paranoia Sets In

As you might have guessed, A Hard Day is part black comedy, part paranoia thriller, and part murder mystery. It’s a mix that works pretty well.

Gun-su and his colleagues are all detectives. That adds to the paranoia — they are likely to notice that his car looks like it’s been in an accident, and that he seems unusually tense, in spite of his mother’s recent funeral. He’s smart enough to know how to cover his tracks.

They were all recently under investigation by Internal Affairs, too. Gun-su was the last to hear that they were... well, not cleared, exactly, but they were “helped” by an even more corrupt cop, Detective Park (Jin-woong Jo), who quickly became something of a local hero among his colleagues.

Just when you think Gun-su will manage to dispose of the body after all, he gets a phone call from a mysterious stranger saying “I know what you did” and “Bring the body to me.” Paranoia sets in, and Gun-su investigates what it is about the man he hit that has aroused the interest of someone who seems to know more than he possibly could.

Surprise and Tension

Director Seong-hoon Kim adds some surprising and showy flourishes. A conventional high-angle shot lingers and turns sideways. A surprise murder happens during a long take. Near the end, Gun-su seems to realize what kind of film he’s in and reacts accordingly, making sure that an enemy who looks dead, really is dead.

These darkly comic moments help break the tension, only to allow the tension to build from zero again. The cycle of tension and relief is pronounced, which makes A Hard Day fun.

If there’s any disappointment, it’s only that A Hard Day ends with a conventional resolution, and one last throwaway surprise. I almost wish that A Hard Day had added up to something more — that I would be eagerly anticipating the next offering from this director at the next film festival.

Instead, I will settle for being surprised, wound up, relieved, and entertained.