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A DAY is a GROUNDHOG DAY in Every Parent’s Personal Hell (Fantasia Review)

It took Phil Connors somewhere between 10 and 10,000 years to be a good enough man for Rita Hanson in Groundhog Day, depending on which mythology you trust. He got to master the piano, buy some wrestling tickets, and kidnap a furry holiday mascot because some trickster god of resetting time demanded the weatherman and segment producer get together for an all-timer happy ending. Even with a brief detour into suicide attempts, Groundhog Day is still a far sunnier version of the endless loop concept than what Jun-young (Kim Myung-min) endures in Cho Sun-ho’s emotionally annihilating, unassumingly titled A Day.

Jun-young is a gifted doctor returning from addressing the UN on his efforts to bring aid to war zones. His plane lands, he gives a brief press conference, then speeds down the streets of Seoul only to stumble upon a horrific car accident. After helping the driver, he realizes that the little girl, bloodied in the street, that people are crowding around is his daughter Eun-jung (Jo Eun-hyung). Then he wakes up. And it starts all over again.

He’s stuck in the infinite loop of a parent’s worst nightmare, unable to save his little girl from a painful death. In the depths of despair, he discovers he’s not the only one stuck repeating the day.

A Day Kid

A Day is a prime example of elevating a gimmick to art. Far from falling victim to the faulty and repetitive trap that the hook leaves the story vulnerable to, Cho and company utilize an airtight cycle of despair and clever editing to keep the same horrendous few hours looking fresh and distressing. New information is revealed in smart, entertaining ways that satisfy nearly all the nagging questions that naturally occur when you’re fussing with timey wimey stuff. Why can’t Jun-young just drive faster? Why can’t he simply distract the cab driver (Yoo Jae-myung) who runs over his daughter? Or hire him to be somewhere else? Why can’t he tell his daughter to meet him somewhere else?

All the simple logic that would have cut this movie short with a happy ending are given clean, understandable answers that leave Jun-young’s predicament harrowing and messy. A Day leaves zero room for the cynical viewer to say, “Well, I just would have done X…” The movie traps you alongside its main character inside a claustrophobic two-hour window that suggests there may be no exit door out of anguish. He has to keep trying, but there’s no guarantee that the cycle can be stopped or that his daughter can be saved. A Day dares to ask: what if Jun-young is doomed to a Sisyphean hell of seeing his little girl fly over the hood of a speeding cab forever?

A Day Death

Like the best films that traffic in repeated days, Cho’s film also leaves nagging threads and details that gnaw at Jun-young and his eventual companion in the tragic sequence–a little boy choking on candy at the airport, a press conference he has to give or ignore, and others too good to spoil. These loose ends offer the air of complication we recognize in real life, and they often bolster the theme of the good doctor rushing to save everyone except the very person closest to him. Jun-young is a neglectful father, but A Day isn’t simple enough to torture him for skipping his daughter’s birthday to address the UN. This isn’t Liar Liar, where everything can be so easily wrapped in a bow with a goofy life lesson. A Day adds layers and revelations that ultimately complicate our view of Jun-young and offer a poignant, darkly ironic reasoning for his failures as a father which leads ultimately poetic conclusion.

It luxuriates in the cruel taste of fate, and eventually adds an element of revenge that demands the digging of a billion graves. Death on repeat, unless Jun-young and his companion can fix everything without locking new horrors into permanence.

A Day goes for the heart and the throat with the standard sensibilities of Korean drama, using Jun-young’s relationship with his impish, potentially-doomed daughter like a bludgeon. Korean filmmakers remain the world champions of emotional manipulation that you can’t get mad at, which is why whenever you see a viral video labeled “Commercial will bring you to tears!!!” it’s usually an ad for a South Korean bank. On that front, Cho is at the top of the game.

A Day Airport

You know A Day is manipulating you, you know that its using age-old techniques and broad characterizations and soap opera tactics to draw out the waterworks, but there you are, wailing and sniffling in the dark theater anyway, thanking the movie for slapping you over the head with familial love and devotion. It all works obscenely well, torturing you alongside its main characters, not with Saw-like, absurd horror nonsense, but with something as commonplace as a car accident. Something you could get a phone call about at any time. A Day utilizes that justifiable fear to drag Jun-young through hell and through a corridor toward redemption, whether he makes it or not.

It’s normal to want the protagonist to win, but it’s rare to want so deeply in your bones for the hero to succeed. A Day earns every inch of that.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 infinite burritos


Images: Film Line See

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