One of the highlights of last month’s London Film Festival was the dark and funny Korean thriller, A HARD DAY. The film will soon be screening at the London Korean Film Festival, and we got the opportunity to sit down with the film’s director, Kim Seong Hun. Here he discusses making the film and the possibility of an English language remake. You can find our 4 star review of this brilliantly twisted comedy here.
In the history of cinema, from Akira Kurosawa’s STRAY DOG, INSOMNIA and the Christopher Nolan remake, and now A HARD DAY, it seems as though cinema always wants to give a police officer a tough time. I was wondering how you went about creating your script.
To be honest the police itself wasn’t really the focus of my intentions or my purpose. I selected this job because fundamentally at the heart if every police work is a need for morality and a moral compass. However, if there was an immoral policeman I think who had done unethical things that would heighten the conflict and the drama, so that was my initial aim. So people who have to obey the rules, but are in a position of having to break, or the dilemma around having to break the rules when you are supposed to keep them, I thought that would heighten the drama and the conflict around it, so that’s why I chose a policeman.
Were you ever worried that you would take it so far that the audience would lose empathy for the main character?
So this film didn’t have a small budget, it had a relatively big budget. Not huge, but regardless it needed investors to fund the film and I think it was true that the investors were hesitant about having an immoral character and antihero who was a protagonist in the film and whether such a character can really be the main centre of the film. So I think there was slight hesitation there. But I thought that kind of character was much more appealing. So to persuade the audience to like this character with an immoral compass for example, not because the film gives a lot of background and context to the character so you understand where he’s coming from but simply for the audience to focus on how he reacts to the high pressurised situations. I thought that approach would be very interesting and harder to do.
Towards the end, the climax, with the big fight, it’s not a traditional choreographed fight, it’s very scrappy, very funny, but also you really feel the pain when the heads hit bathtubs. How did you compose a scene like that?
It took about 4 days to film that scene in the apartment. Of course the external settings we filmed outside and the internal ones we filmed inside, and there was always this risk factor that actors could get hurt. For example, rather than having a fight scene that was very acrobatic, highly choreographed and very fashionable and polished, we focused on an action scene that was faithful to the emotions, because we thought if it was choreographed it really wouldn’t be quite truthful. We avoided doing any choreographing in general and left it to what emerged in that situation. We weren’t too worried because that scene was shot towards the end of the filming of the overall film so we had worked together and perfected a rhythm of working together. That sequence is about 8 minutes long and for that sequence to be without humour I thought it would feel exhausting to watch and too long to watch for the audience and in order to avoid it being too horrifying humour was needed without interrupting the intention of that sequence.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the ringtone used in the film was one of the waltzes from OLDBOY, or at least a very similar one, and obviously the ringtones play a huge part in that film. What were your decisions around the ringtones?
In this film Dmitri Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 was used as the ringtone, however originally in the script I had intended the main theme song from the film (Googles for title), directed by Rene Clement with Alain Delon as one of the actors, and it’s the original film that was remade as THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY with Matt Damon. I’m sorry but I don’t know the title (PLEIN SOLEIL), but the main theme from that film was the one that I intended to use as the mobile ringtone. However, in order to use that song, the cost of it was higher than my director’s fee. So I has to scrap that and then I decided to use Waltz No. 2 as you don’t have to pay anything for that song.
This is only your second feature, with it being 8 years since your previous film. How do you go about choosing a film to work on, and do you prefer working slowly or is it just how things have worked out?
I want to work at a quicker pace, but my first film wasn’t commercially successful, so it took a long time to persuade the investors and to prepare a good enough film. For my next film I really want to film it as soon as possible, 8 years is far too long.
Talking of box office, this film had a slower start in Korea, and gradually grew through word of mouth. Does that feel better? knowing that gradually more people are going to see it rather than a big opening and then a big drop off?
Yes, I’m very thankful. However, a better scenario would have been that it was a hit initially at the box office and then through word of mouth become bigger.
With the lead actor, Lee Sun Kyun, the film takes place over a short period of time. How was it for him, maintaining that intensity throughout and was he able to easily slip back in after a day’s rest? And was the film shot in sequence to keep that pace of his performance alive?
As much as possible I tried to film the sequences in order, but with everywhere due to restraints such as location for example, that’s not very easy so we did go back and forth. For the actor it wouldn’t have been easy to slip into the role. However, we had many, many conversations and discussions, especially about what the exact subtle level of intensity and emotions was for that particular scene, and that’s what we really focused upon. I’m sure that wasn’t easy for him but I think, results wise, that’s why it was quite satisfactory.
The film takes an odd twist in that it goes from very dark at the beginning and the final scenes are set in broad daylight. Was that intentionally ironic, to take this dark film and make the visuals brighter?
In the beginning of the film there’s an event where you secretly have to conceal something, so initially there’s a lot of focus on darkness. Then, towards the end of the film I wanted to brighten the mood, so there was more focus on brightness. Again, in the last scene, there’s the possibility of darkness with all the red lighting, where he’s facing another choice as to whether he’ll go light or towards the darkness again. I kind of wanted to throw that question out there, so that was structurally very much needed.
A HARD DAY is going to screen at the London Korean Film Festival in November, what would you say to people who missed it at the London Film Festival to try and convince them to get into the seats?
Very difficult question. THE most difficult question. If you have any tips on how I could persuade the audience to come and see the film…
Well, the next screening at the London Film Festival is already sold out, so it’s certainly getting good word of mouth over here. I think the story easily translates to other languages, so on that note, how would you feel if an English language remake ever came along? Obviously you’d want your own film to be a huge success, but if Hollywood came calling how would you respond?
Firstly, to hear that it’s been sold out makes me feel very happy. However, I get none of the profits from sales of the tickets. Secondly, if there was an English remake, I’m aware that the distributors of this film are kind of in the middle of a deal with the US for a remake. If there was going to be an English remake I would very much like to see that, it would make me extremely happy. I would like to see that as soon as possible really and it’s something very exciting.
And who would you like cast in the two leads if you had the choice?
I don’t know. Any recommendations?
I could imagine Colin Firth as one of them, maybe the villain.
Once we heard that they were negotiating around a Hollywood remake, myself and the main actors, Lee Sun Kyun and Cho Jin Woong, were joking around that in the final scene where they go into the piggy bank, what if the two main Korean actors in that film played the owner and the staff member.
A HARD DAY will screen at the London Korean Film Festival on Sunday, 9th November at 14:00 at London’s Odeon West End. You can book tickets here! The film will also get a wider release in the near future.