Imagine you kept reliving the worst day of your life. Not metaphorically, like you can’t stop playing its events over and over again in your mind. Literally, like you’re imprisoned to retread paths to a terrible end point, and no matter how you might try to deviate the journey, it always crashes coldly into the same dark destination. It’s a unique brand of hell you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Or maybe you would.
In the South Korean thriller A Day, celebrated surgeon Jun-young (Kim Myung-min) is trapped in a cruel loop, living again and again the day his young daughter (Jo Eun-hyung) was killed in a car crash. Over and over, he awakes in a cold sweat, desperate to race to that horrid intersection and save her. But always he’s too late. Each time, he’s tormented by the sight of her limp little body dead in the crosswalk. Just when things seem too grim, bordering on numbing, writer-director Cho Sun-ho reveals this devastated doctor isn’t alone in this aching eternal cycle, and so A Day spins into something exhilarating, strange, and bittersweet.
Making its international premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, A Day pitches audiences into a quest that’ll make your pulse and heart its plaything. The story of the doctor and his doomed daughter sets up a tale bleeding with tragedy. She is young, and angry that her daddy dares to sprint around the world saving the day for others, while she’s left at home, forgotten. He doesn’t take her pleas for attention seriously until he realizes he’s lost her. And we feel his remorse and pain, particularly in one brutal slow-motion sequence that focuses intently on the pink-jacketed child tossed up from the speeding car with such force that she seems to fly. We watch her fall as her father does, horrified and helpless. But with the introduction of an amped up ambulance driver (Byun Yo-han), the film takes on a manic flare that surges the second act, which folds in flashbacks tender and shocking, along with tense chase scenes and a gut-punching, game-changing reveal.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll say only that the doctor and the driver diverge on how this damnable loop might be ended, and the daughter saved. This spurs a tension in their already uneasy alliance, jettisoning the plot into a finale that is unnerving, enthralling, and stunningly poignant.
Ultimately, A Day is a Groundhog Day premise with Hitchcockian twists, and a delectable dollop of the bittersweet that audiences have come to expect from such South Korean stunners as The Handmaiden, Mother, and I Saw The Devil. Even when you get a happy ending in this oeuvre, it’s one edged with brilliant pain. And it’s all the more beautiful for it.