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Day, A
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by Jay Seaver

"A fair definition of hell and how to get out."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Say this for "A Day" - it rapidly makes a solid impression that being stuck in this sort of time-loop would be a sort of hell, as nobody in the audience wants to watch a tragedy happen over and over again any more than the people involved do, so by the time it does a bit of a switch-up, we're pretty relieved as well as thankful to see that this movie is going to be more than a hyper-compressed "Groundhog Day" with violent death. It's still kind of a mess, but it's a quick and often effective one.

The person trapped in the loop is Dr. Kim Jun-young (Kim Myung-min), a doctor famous for his international charity work, just back in Seoul from speaking at the United Nations and eager to see his daughter Eun-jung (Jo Eun-hyung), though the tween is frustrated and annoyed by her frequently-absent father, as such girls are. It's 9:58am when he wakes up on the plane, and he'll be yanked back to that moment at 12:30pm - and, as he'll soon discover, it's pretty much impossible to get where he needs to be to change what happens at noon in time. After at least a half-dozen cycles, Jun-young isn't quite numb to what's happening, but he can still be jolted when one of the EMTs on scene, Min-chul (Byun Yo-han), asks how he's able to react differently as well.

It's more than a bit of a relief when Min-chul shows up, because even though that's likely just about a quarter of the way through a 90 minute movie, it's already kind of a punishing grind. That's a large part of the point of the film, of course - people being put through hell to pay for their sins until they can finally attain forgiveness or see the pointlessness of their anger - and it's writer/director Cho Sun-ho's biggest and most important accomplishment that the audience's heads are likely heading in the direction of Sisyphus (or whatever the Korean equivalent is) and other myths of eternal punishment and torment right away, despite the fact that the opening act never really slows down enough for Jun-young to wax particularly philosophical about what this is like, and neither he nor the film in general spends much time in puzzle-solving mode until later.

This set-up requires the actors to play much of the film frantic and shaken half to the point of madness, with a baseline only emerging during later flashbacks, but it's a task they are generally up for. Kim Myung-min does especially well as Jun-young - even before things start getting strange, Kim captures the sort of paradox of manner this sort of doctor must have to succeed - they need more self-confidence than other people are truly comfortable with them displaying, maybe even actually crossing the line into arrogance. Kim handles both that coolness and a genuine sort of regret well enough that it might not be obvious amid a generally frantic set of events and in comparison to other main characters: Byun Yo-han, for instance, plays Min-chul as more desperate and despairing, and the way they play off each other is a good illustration of how keeping cool in a crisis is a matter of degree. Yoo Jae-myung, meanwhile, gets to play his character as basically unhinged - for all that the audience has to understand his motivations, this isn't a thing where the villain should become truly sympathetic in a twist, so Yoo and the filmmakers find the point where he's unambiguously monstrous without seeming inhuman in the sense that one doesn't believe him.

That laudable intensity works well, especially during the multiple car crashes and chases, and Cho does an admirable job of finding ways to make doing the same thing many times exciting, especially considering that not only is he doing a time-loop movie, but one with a very short window. It occasionally stretches the budget or pushes too far, but this is paced very well and reinvents itself much more than one might expect..

I'm not sure if Cho really finds a good point to really change his characters enough to make his finale really work, though. The situation set up is so extreme that everybody is awfully close to painted in a corner. Indeed, the finale has a section that basically hinges on a character doing something that the film spent a good deal of time establishing as just not being physically possible, thus forcing the characters to work on changing hearts and minds. It's almost as if Cho's betting that viewers will either be so caught up or that so much will have happened since that they'll either ignore or forgive.

Despite that, this is a very nicely crafted film, even without us English-language folks getting the pun in the title ("Ha-roo" is both a character name and Korean for "A Day"). It isn't quite so steady underneath as it seems like it should be, but then, steady isn't exactly what it's going for.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=31434&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/23/17 09:29:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Sun-ho Cho

Written by
  Sun-ho Cho

Cast
  Myung-min Kim
  Yo-han Byeon
  Hye-Sun Shin
  Eun-hyung Jo



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