Film Review – Hard Hit

Hard Hit

Hard Hit

Writer/director Changju Kim’s Hard Hit (2021) is a solid, throwback thriller. A remake of the Spanish film, Retribution (2015), this South Korean offering has the DNA of tense, location-specific action films of the past. Characters trapped in a vehicle wired with a bomb will call to mind the premise of Speed (1994). Seeing the protagonist speak with the villain over the phone is reminiscent of the underrated Phonebooth (2002). Yet Kim takes these influences and doesn’t just merely replicate them. The story has an identity of its own, combining strong direction, editing, action choreography, and performances to keep us engaged throughout its brief runtime. It’s nice to see a genre piece that executes its familiar trappings effectively.

Sung Gyu (Woo-jin Jo) is a bank manager who is driving his daughter Hye-in (Jae-in Lee) and young son to school on his way to work. This seemingly every day routine gets interrupted when Sung Gyu gets a phone call from an unlisted number. The voice on the other end of the line (Ji Chang-Wook) informs him that a bomb has been placed underneath his seat. If anyone in the car tries to get out, it will detonate. If Sung Gyu tries to alert the authorities, it will detonate. If Sung Gyu even gets the caller too upset, it will detonate. Sung Gyu initially dismisses he caller as a prankster, but when he reaches under his seat and discovers the bomb himself, he realizes the situation is deadly serious.

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What exactly does the caller want? The same thing that any antagonist in this kind of movie would want: money, and lots of it. The narrative becomes a standoff, as the caller demands that his ransom be paid and Sung Gyu trying to figure out some way to get himself and his kids out of this jam. Kim’s writing and direction is sleek and economical. Often, in stories contained to a single space, the tension ebbs and flows as the production tries to find a way to keep things interesting. Kim does not have this issue. He’s able to keep the tension rising – from mild concern, to fear and desperation. There isn’t a moment that feels wasted or unnecessary, everything moves at an increasingly rapid pace.

The camerawork captures in action in crisp clarity. Not only does the cinematography and editing keep the geography of the car coherent as it weaves through city streets (thankfully shot during the middle of a bright day), but it also translates the events within the car in an interesting manner. The frame moves like an omniscient presence, sometimes placed as a fourth passenger and sometimes gliding between perspectives freely. One of the big accomplishments is how it manages events happening both in and outside the car at the same time. During one sequence, the camera stays with Sung Gyu and the kids as they witness things happen outside. How camera captures information through the windows and the actors’ immediate reactions is an example of excellent action filmmaking.

But Hard Hit isn’t just an extended car chase, but a battle of wits. Things take a dramatic turn when authorities become aware of Sung Gyu’s erratic driving, discover that something is wrong, and finger him as a suspect. The latter half becomes a hostage situation with Sung Gyu assigned as the falsely accused man. This section might arguably be the most engrossing, even when the car is at a standstill. The performers get to flex their abilities here, allowing for character development to carry narrative. Both Woo-jin Jo and Ji Chang-Wook are great in this stretch, informing their characters with enough depth to make their dynamic more than just a “good guy vs. bad guy” scenario. They have both sinned and are sinned against, and in that way, they find a level of understanding. While the resolution to their conflict might be tad too neat, in the heat of the moment their confrontation felt authentic.

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If there’s anything that hinders the film from greatness, it exists in the treatment of the kid characters. Perhaps it’s due to me being a parent, but seeing the children suffer here comes off as a bit too exploitative. Obviously, the threat of harm is meant to create a ticking-clock situation in which Sung Gyu must make a decision. However, placing them in such a predicament – subject to brutal, bloody violence – just didn’t sit well. If a movie is going to harm their kid characters, it has to make a convincing argument to do so. I’m not so sure Kim and the rest of the production was able to provide one here.

With that said, Hard Hit is still a solid thriller that adds enough excitement and intrigue to forgive its shortcomings. This is one of the few times where we have a good remake with the potential for more to come. The set-up is easily transferrable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a version of this from an English-speaking perspective. I wouldn’t be mad if this story gets remade multiple times from an array of different countries – that would make for an interesting experiment. That’s the beauty of movies, isn’t it? When you have something that works this well, it can transcend beyond cultural boundaries to provide a captivating, universal experience.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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