AFI Fest 2014: A Hard Day (South Korea) and Run (Côte d’Ivoire)

AFIFEST2014logoMy two Sunday movies at the Fest were “Run,” written and directed by Philippe Lacôte, and then “A Hard Day,” written and directed by Kim Seong-hun, both from this year.

“Run” and Côte d’Ivoire

I was excited to see “Run” not only because it sounded great, but because it’s a movie from Côte d’Ivoire and there just aren’t very many of those yet. One of the things I love about films is the opportunity to see places that I’ll never go from the perspective of someone who lives there.

“Run” was filmed in Côte d’Ivoire and neighboring Burkina Faso, and it is beautiful country. The film was beautiful—the colors and the shot constructions. The director was at the screening and took some questions afterwards. He explained the film is meant to operate on three levels of reality: personal, social, and mystical, and that each of the three “acts” of the film represents part of the country’s history.

run a film from cote d'ivoire

The film stars Abdoul Karim Konaté as Run, whose coming of age story in some ways mirrors his country’s history. The film is largely a series of flashbacks after Run murders the Ivorian Prime Minister (formerly a paid thug) at the beginning.

As a child, Run wants to become a rainmaker. The local rainmaker takes him as an apprentice, and this section of the film offers some of its most breathtaking landscapes. When that doesn’t work out, he goes to work for Gladys the Greedy, a beautiful and enormous professional eater, played by Reine Sali Coulibaly in a funny and touching performance. (Lacôte explained that Gladys, who was originally going to be played by Gabourey Sidibe, is based on a real [male] professional eater who came from Mali.)

Run 2014 film
Gladys (Reine Sali Coulibaly) and a young Run (Abdoul Bah)

In the third section of the film, one of my absolute favorite contemporary actors, the incomparable Isaach de Bankolé (a regular in Jim Jarmusch’s films), plays the last of Run’s mentors, Assa. De Bankolé was born in Abidjan, the largest city in Côte d’Ivoire, and where much of the film’s action takes place.

With any luck, the film will get picked up at the festival and lots more folks will be able to see it. Here’s a clip:

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

A Hard Day 2014 film

“A Hard Day” was my second film—another midnight screening. The director was also in attendance at this one. Unfortunately, given that the screening ended just before 2am, no one had the stamina for a Q & A. The audience loved the movie, and it’s definitely the most fun I’ve had so far. I’m a big fan of South Korean crime thrillers, starting with “The President’s Last Bang” in 2005, which I saw at the always-excellent Wisconsin Film Festival. “A Hard Day” is a really good film.

The first twenty minutes or so are especially impressive and the rest of the film does justice to its great opening. This is going to sound like I’m ruining the plot for you, but what I’m about to describe is really only the beginning of what is a very long bad day for the main character, so trust me and read on.

A corrupt cop (Lee Sun Gyun) has left his siblings to finish preparations for their mother’s funeral in order to drive back to his precinct to hide some incriminating evidence from the Internal Affairs officers who are about to show up. His sister calls and gives him a (justifiably) hard time about how soon he’ll be back. He also gets a call from his young daughter, Mina, to remind him to bring her a chocolate cake. And his fellow corrupt cops back at the precinct are calling about the evidence that will incriminate all of them and is not being hidden.

Unfortunately, our hero, Detective Ko, is the only one with a key to the drawer containing said evidence, so all the other cops can do is stare despondently at the drawer. In the middle of all this, his car slams into something, cracking the windshield and denting the front end. It turns out that Detective Ko’s day has gone from bad to much, much worse. He has accidentally killed a man. When Ko sees a police car heading towards him, he hides the body…by putting it in his trunk.

99 Problems…

Shortly thereafter, Ko is back at the morgue with his family and an extra corpse. His colleagues show up to discuss the impending catastrophe and alert Ko that the Internal Affairs guys are on their way to him, now, at the morgue. In a panic, Ko makes another really bad decision—to hide the corpse in the only place no one will look: his mother’s coffin.

He is wracked with guilt—and in a particularly hilarious moment, he promises his mother’s corpse that he will make it up to her. What ensues is a genius combination of genuine suspense and something close to slapstick, involving yellow balloons, a noisy toy soldier, and the cross from his mother’s coffin.

AFI Fest 2014 A Hard DayLike a number of fine South Korean crime thrillers, “A Hard Day” masterfully blends the thrills of a crime story with some very dark humor (my favorite kind). But the drama wouldn’t work if we didn’t actually care about Ko—and we absolutely sympathize with him. We want him to escape the Internal Affairs cops, get the dead guy out of his mother’s coffin, and make it home to his daughter with her chocolate cake.

For whatever combination of reasons, American action films don’t seem interested in offering their audiences real characters anymore, and so the movies are hollow and unsatisfying, however good they may look. The last action heroes (sorry) I can remember caring about from an American movie are Nic Cage and Sean Connery in “The Rock,” which was almost 20 years ago now. (Oy vey, I’m old.) Hollywood, take a lesson—this is how you make a real action movie.

 

Coming up next: The weirdest Iranian film you’ll probably never get to see.

 

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