Hard Hit (Balshinjehan)

Korea (2021) Dir. Kim Chang-Ju

Ever had one of those days were nothing seems to go right? It starts off normal enough then one little thing sets of a chain of events that results in disaster; you know what I am talking about. As annoying as this is, I think we get off lightly compared to the cast of this Korean thriller.

Lee Seong-gyu (Jo Woo-jin), manager of a high profile investment bank in Busan, takes his two children, daughter Hye-in (Lee Jae-in) and son Min-Joon, to school before he has an important meeting at work. A few minutes into the journey, Seong-gyu gets a phone call informing him there is a bomb in his car, and if he or the kids try to leave, the bomb will be detonated.

The caller (Ji Chang-wook) demands Seong-gyu pay him a large sum of money or the car goes boom. Seong-gyu thinks it is a hoax until he learns a colleague is in the same situation, except his wife tries to leave the car and it explodes. As Seong-gyu tries to raise the money from his car and his injured son is slowly bleeding to death, the police check the CCTV footage and thinks Seong-gyu is behind the bombings.

When a film’s central premise borrows liberally from successful extant properties we are always tempted to write it off, something I am sure many will do with Hard Hit. But first time director Kim Chang-Ju is not entirely guilty in this instance as this is a remake of a 2015 Spanish film Retribution, which has also been remade by Germany in 2018 as Don’t. Get. Out!, with the inevitable US remake starring Liam Neeson in the pipeline.

Regardless of owing a nod or two to Speed and Phone Booth, Kim (I can’t comment on his predecessors) manages to take these borrowed elements and craft a taut, fast paced and nifty little thriller with them. Let’s be clear, these are general comparisons, at least with Speed as there is no need for the car to remain in motion, only the land mine effect of leaving the seats causing detonation.

Phone Booth I have not seen but others have referred to it through the conversations being conducted by mobile phone which makes that clear enough for me. Much of the plot hinges on why Seong-gyu has been targeted and how deranged his tormentor must be to exact such elaborate revenge on him.

Seong-gyu being a banker does telegraph a moral dilemma for the audience since we are supposed to feel sympathy and concern for him – which we do – but at the same time, it isn’t difficult to assume the basis of this revenge mission is to do with a dodgy deal Seong-gyu made in the past. Perhaps blowing him and his kids up is a bit extreme but we wouldn’t have such a tense film otherwise, in spite of being far-fetched.

In a brilliant shot, as Seong-gyu is backing the car up when meeting colleague Jung-ho (Jeon Seok-ho), in the background we see Jung-ho’s wife get out of the car then BOOM! Somehow during this, Min-Joon gets a cut in his leg – I have no idea how as they were quite a way from the explosion so it couldn’t have been shrapnel, and nobody else was hit, remaining unexplained for the whole film, despite its import to the plot in measuring the coldness of the bomber.

Meanwhile, the police see Seong-gyu backing away before the explosion as a sign he is the culprit; later when his wife Yeon-su (Kim Ji-ho) makes the drop off of the first instalment of the money, and Seong-gyu is nearby watching, this is confirmation. Even though Seong-gyu said no police, Yeon-su called them anyway, and now the bomber is miffed, refusing to let Seong-gyu take Min-Joon to hospital until he is paid.

Yet, with all this madness, the police still think Seong-gyu is guilty, the only person who believes his innocence is the head of bomb squad Ban (Jin Kyung), but being a woman, the male police officers think she is gullible as everyone with XX chromosomes is to them. Ban was one of the stronger written characters but with less to do, whilst the arrogant male cops are off the peg tropes.

Upon arriving at the third act, so much has gone down the story has twisted itself away from its original point. The truth behind this campaign is revealed and is pretty much what you would expect it to be, and even though we should be empathetic to the root of the bomber’s rage, his actions negate this. Conversely, this applies to Seong-gyu who is essentially a criminal but his actions were within legal parameters, just dishonest and debatably not worth killing him and his family over.

Nevertheless, this flawed premise does lend itself to a breathless and suspenseful run of set pieces which see an increasingly strained Seong-gyu, nicely essayed by Jo Woo-jin, drive across the city to save his family, placate and psycho, and avoid the cops in a four-wheel time bomb. Nifty editing and superb camerawork play a vital part in keeping energy levels up and the audience in the thrall of the action, whilst the quieter moments are just as tense.

Kim was formerly an editor with many action thrillers among his credits, and this comes through in how a number of scenes are shot, as if he could picture how to bring them together afterwards – and yes, he did edit this film too. This has given Kim an additional insight into how to pace the film, knowing when to go big and when to take a rest, the end result being well balanced.  

Films about the importance of family aren’t usually this extreme, and there is a chance this point may be missed when watching Hard Hit, but if you can get past this and the annoying plot holes, this entertaining, febrile thriller is worth 95-minutes of your time.