Hong Kong star Aaron Kwok headlines the pan-Asian, China-funded remake of Kim Seong-hun’s nihilistic South Korean thriller, ‘A Hard Day.’
A corrupt cop makes one wrong decision after another in Peace Breaker, the slick but entirely unnecessary China-friendly remake of Korean director Kim Seung-hun’s nihilistic 2014 thriller, A Hard Day. Swapping out Kim’s bleak worldview and unapologetically unlikeable — and engrossing — characters, led by Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Jin-woong, for the starrier Aaron Kwok and Wang Qianyuan, Taiwanese director Lien Yi-chi moves the action to Kuala Lumpur for more polished, moneyed-looking results, but without the original film’s satiric edge. After a decent run in Mainland China, Peace Breaker may have enough life in it due to Kwok’s presence to sustain it through a modest release in Asia, but overseas territories that experienced the real deal may not be as willing to bite given the diminishing returns.
Kwok plays Xiang Gaojian (Kwok), a dirty Kuala Lumpur cop suspected of corruption who, while driving to his mother’s funeral, hits a pedestrian and promptly covers up the crime rather than simply report an accident. After disposing of the body in her coffin — in a remarkable bit of broad comedy on Kwok’s part — Xiang learns that the victim was a wanted drug trafficker and the subject of a bilateral China-Malaysia investigation. He also learns that another, equally dirty cop from China assisting on the case, Chen Changming (Wang, Sky Hunter), witnessed his shenanigans and wants the body. The trafficker and Chen were in league, and Chen needs it to find the location of some money the two stashed away. Chen’s blackmail scheme eventually leads to a ridiculous Jason Voorhees-style showdown, and to Xiang deciding to come clean about his misdeeds.
That is not a spoiler for anyone who saw A Hard Day, given Peace Breaker’s beat-for-beat, line-for-line replication of the earlier film. Lien and writers David Lin and Johnny Yu do nothing in the way of re-imagining the story for new geography (sweaty Malaysia), and spend most of their time gutting the story to engineer the kind of final redemption Kim meticulously avoided. The unambiguous final scene wherein Xiang finds the cash will appease Chinese censors — but it dismantles the entire point of Kim’s original. Koreans, it seems, are comfortable calling out moral turpitude, even (or especially) among their own.
That said, Peace Breaker makes for a diverting enough entertainment when viewed in a vacuum; a crime-comedy more goofy than black. In Lee’s role, Kwok seems to be having a blast as the jittery fool who goes out of his way to make his own life hard. It’s a loose, silly performance that never makes any of the stakes seem serious enough to invest in. Wang plays his antagonist Chen in merry prankster mode. He’s all shady, mid-period Miami Vice oily, in his linen suit with the sleeves rolled up, where Cho was truly menacing. Both are strong actors, but in remaining so faithful to its source material (the only other major changes are a motorbike chase instead of a car, and a wife instead of a sister) Peace Breaker wastes their game performances on a story that was never going to be honest with that source material. Tech specs are fine, with Stephen James Lawe’s sunny images providing a nice contrast to Korea’s grey urban landscape, probably the only change worth noting.
Production company: Tianjin Jet Cloud Picture Media
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Wang Qianyuan, Feng Jiayi, Zheng Kai, Yu Ailei, Liu Tao
Director: Lien Yi-chi
Screenwriter: David Lin, Johnny Yu
Producer: Jimmy Huang
Executive producer: Roy Hu
Director of photography: Stephen James Lawe
Production designer: Sunny Wu
Costume designer: Dora Wu
Editor: Wenders Li
Music: Tersdak Janpan
World sales: TianJin MaoYan Media
No rating, 114 minutes