Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Hard Hit, the Korean Version, on DVD

This is the latest Miss Granny or Invisible Guest/Badla/Invisible Witness-style international remake franchise. First there was the Spanish film, then a German remake, followed by this take from Korean. Supposedly, there will even be a Hollywood version starring Liam Neeson, but the Korean one is probably the best, because the South Korean film industry seems to have such a comparative advantage for thrillers. Regardless, it will be like watching four films at once if you check out Kim Chang-ju’s Hard Hit when it releases today on DVD and VOD.

Sung-gyu picked a heck of a day to pretend to be an engaged dad and drive his young son and teen daughter Hye-in to school. It turns out a mysterious
Speed-like villain has placed a bomb under his seat, which will explode if anyone leaves the car. Initially, Sung-gyu isn’t sure what to believe, until he sees what happens to a colleague. To save his kids, the investment banker must defraud his clients to pay the bomber’s costly ransom. Of course, he is forbidden from talking to the police and the bomber appears to have the means of enforcing his dictates.

Inevitably, Sung-gyu’s reckless driving attracts the attention of the Seoul cops, who deduce the father is a likely “family annihilator,” because they are dumber than a box of rocks. In fact, the stupidity of the police quickly takes on astronomical proportions, except for Bahn, the Chief of the bomb squad, who is definitely the film’s saving grace.

There is white-knuckle potential to
Hard Hit’s premise, but it squanders credibility in the way it portrays the police force as abjectly clueless. It also openly invites audience sympathy for the bad guy during the third act, but it is impossible to follow it there, after we see him commit such awful crimes. Even though Sung-gyu and his late colleague might be morally compromised, the psycho bombers risks and kills a lot of innocent victims.

Despite a fair degree of suspense and some neatly executed chases and stand-offs,
Hard Hit just leaves viewers with conflicted emotions. It doesn’t seem fair Kim’s adaptation of Alberto Marini’s screenplay puts us through all this, just to arrive at a point of lukewarm moral ambiguity. Frankly, the film reflects an antiquated worldview held by demagogues like Elizabeth Warren that anyone who invests in the stock market is basically like the Monopoly Man, lighting their cigars with hundred-dollar bills. The reality is anyone who has a 401K through their company is invested in the market. Admittedly, Sung-gyu’s firm has murky history with respects to small retail investors, but any sense of nuance is lost during the third act.

Still, Jo Woo-jin and Lee Jae-in handle some extreme father-daughter drama quite nicely as Sung-gyu and Hye-in. They have a few scenes that are definitely worthy of a sizzle reel. Ji Kyung is also excellent as Bahn (who is uniquely intelligent and intuitive amongst the Seoul force). However, Ji Chang-wook’s sinister, but supposedly forgivable villain is a rather cold, clammy fish.

Kim, who edited crackerjack Korean thrillers like
A Hard Day and The Target (which was also a remake of a European film) maintains the pace and tension, but he can’t land the reversal of sympathies. Seriously, how is threatening to blow-up kids okay, whatever your backstory might be? Kim’s skill will hold your rapt attention, but afterward you will be a bit annoyed by the implications. Earning a decidedly mixed review (you better off starting with some of the great thrillers he edited), Hard Hit releases today (2/22) on DVD and VOD.