Hard Hit (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): There is a bomb right under him….

South Korean film “Hard Hit” is an efficient thriller which drives along its tight plot better than expected. While surely reminiscent of many other similar thriller films including “Phone Booth” (2002), the movie quickly grabs our attention within its first 20 minutes, and it is often thrilling to see how it deftly dials up and down the level of suspense before eventually arriving at its eventual finale, which mostly works despite being rather anti-climactic compared to what has been built up so well during rest of the film.

The movie mainly revolves around Seong-gyoo (Jo Woo-jin), a promising branch manager of some prominent bank living with his family in Busan. During the opening part, we see him starting another usual busy day of his at his comfortable modern house, and the movie succinctly establishes his fairly fine relationships with his wife and their two children before he leaves the house along with his two kids by his car. While taking his two children to their respective schools, Seong-gyoo is still occupied with some very important task to be handled sooner or later, and both of his children are apparently accustomed to how busy their father often is with his work.

And then something quite unexpected happens. Shortly after finding a smartphone which does not belong to anyone in his family, Seong-gyoo receives an unknown call from that smartphone. He merely ignores the first call as being occupied with driving his car as well as his work, but someone on the other end of the line calls again, and it does not take much time for him to realize that he is in a very situation along with his two kids. That mysterious caller in question tells him that there is a bomb planted right under his driving seat, and the caller demands a considerable amount of money in exchange for letting him and his kids alive.

Seong-gyoo has some understandable doubt at first, but, to more of his horror, his opponent really means business. While his car is being constantly monitored by his opponent, the bomb does exist as he later confirms for himself, and it will be exploded if he or his children ever tries to get out of the car – or if they ever try to seek for help from anyone outside. Especially after witnessing what will definitely happen to him and his children if he is not careful at any point, Seong-gyoo becomes more panic and desperate, and he is surely willing to follow his opponent’s demand, but, of course, gathering the exact amount of ransom for him and his kids within a few hours given to him turns out to be pretty difficult even for a successful bank branch manager like him.

As Seong-gyoo keeps driving in addition to struggling to handle the situation which seems to be way over his head, more tension and pressure are mounted upon him second by second. As he frantically tries to gather any money within his reach, the circumstance becomes more complicated than before, and he also comes to draw the attention of the local police, which is certainly the last thing he wants right now.

After economically presenting its first act, the movie serves us several intense sequences packed with thrill and suspense thanks to the competent direction of director Kim Chang-joo, who has been mainly known for his commendable editing works in a bunch of notable South Korean films such as “Snowpiercer” (2013) and “A Hard Day” (2013). These key sequences are impressive for the skillfully precise control of pacing and impact, and the movie also utilizes well a number of recognizable locations in Busan for bringing some extra verisimilitude to its story.

Above all, the movie depends a lot on its lead actor’s talent and presence, and Jo Woo-jin, who has been known for his fine supporting turns in several acclaimed South Korean films including “Inside Men” (2015) and “Default” (2018), dutifully carries the film with his strong performance. While we are not so surprised by the hidden reason behind his character’s perilous plight (After all, he is your average bank guy, isn’t he?), Jo still holds our attention with his palpable presentation of fear and desperation unfolded onto the screen, and he is especially good when his character comes to face something he has overlooked for years later in the story.

Around Jo, several other main cast members of the film fill their respective spots as required. While young actress Lee Jae-in does more than holding her own place besides Jo, Jin Jyung and Kim Ji-ho are also solid as two other substantial female characters in the story, and both of them have each own moment to shine just like Lee. In case of the performer who mostly plays on the other end of the line, he is already exposed to me and other South Korean audiences via the local poster of the movie, and he is not as menacing as, say, Kiefer Sutherland’s diabolical voice performance in “Phone Booth”, but he acquits himself well at least.

“Hard Hit” is a remake of Spanish thriller film “Retribution” (2015), which I have not seen yet. I do not know whether it is better than that film, but it works well enough to engage and thrill me during its 94-minute running time, and I even did not mind some blatantly melodramatic moments during its last act, mainly because I was still paying attention to what might happen in the end. To be frank with you, I actually felt a bit uneasy when I left the screening room and then went inside my car, and that surely says a lot about what an effective thriller this movie is.

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