I have repeatedly mention that the new "Golden Era" of Korean cinema was headed by the plethora of great crime thrillers that were released during the 00's and the 10's ("Mother - 2009", "The Chaser", "I Saw the Devil", Park Chan-wook, etc). However, the genre also had successes before that time, as "Nowhere To Hide", which won a number of awards both locally and internationally, eloquently proves. Furthermore, Lee Myung-se's film manages to stand out from the vast plethora of similar titles due to its presentation, which actually uses the crime thriller aspect as a base for artistic "experimentations".
The story takes place in Incheon, with the film introducing the two main protagonists, Detectives Woo and Kim through two sequences in black-and-white, where the fact that violence is the force that drives their lives becomes quite apparent. The story then comes in full color in order to present the villain, Jang Seong-min, whose first appearance has him murdering a crime boss in an area called "40 Stairs", before he disappears. Soon after, the two detectives and their team unleash a hunt to catch the perpetrator, who also seems to have a gang. Their search turns the whole area upside down, with Woo harassing every man he thinks might have some information, while Kim tries to restrain him but repeatedly fails. Violence seems to be everywhere, including the police precinct, but eventually has some results, with the detectives discovering the apartment of one of Jang's mistresses, Joo-yeon, and decide to pursue the lead to the end. Expectantly, the big clash eventually occurs.
The basic premise of Lee Myung-se's film is a cat-and-mouse game where the roles become more and more blurred as the time passes, while cruelty and barbarity seem to dominate each frame. Add to that some minor elements of romance, the concept of comradeship, some humor, and an almost harsh effort at mocking cops and their ways, and you have the basic elements of the narrative.
The acting is on a very high level. Park Joong-hoon as Detective Woo is exceptional as a cop who is at least as bad as the people he is supposed to hunt. Jang Dong-gun as Kim is also quite convincing as a failing voice of logic, at times at least, and Ahn Sung-ki is as great as ever in the archetypical role of the "noble villain".
However, all of the above elements are actually placed in the background, as Lee Myung-se has kept theprotagonist role for the visual aspect. Starting with the intro, which shows at least some semblance with the aesthetics implemented in Tetsuo (actually this element carries on in the film), the movie features a plethora of cinematographic and editing "tricks", including slow-motion, jump cuts, sudden splashes of color, still frames, comic strip aesthetics, and in general, a number of elements that make the watching of the movie disorienting, but at the same time very intriguing. The result is quite difficult to describe, but what is certain is that it is great as it is unique, and actually heightens the aesthetics of the film, giving it a very interesting "fractured" approach.
I think I have said enough. If you want to see a different Korean crime thriller, look no further, "Nowhere To Hide" is one of the best in the category.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on DVD from YESASIA and streaming from Amazon
DVD (US - English Subtitled) (En Sub)
DVD HK (En Sub)
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Nowhere to Hide""
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