Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nowhere to Hide / Injeong sajeong bol geot eobtda (Korea, 1999)

Here's an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie that gives you the feeling you should like it more than it actually makes itself likable. Available in two versions, the original Korean version at 112 minutes and an international version at 97, we watched the latter and came away with two main feelings: one, the movie is surely better on the big screen than the small, and two, it's way too long (even when shorn of the extra 15 minutes). We also found the main actor playing Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) unbearable and almost one-note, but the color, composition, cinematography, and visuals do compensate a bit for his half-assed imitation of a walking ape.
Nowhere to Hide opens with a high-contrast B&W scene that is actually emblematic of all that which is good and bad in the movie. In its cinematic seductiveness, it calls to mind the pop artiness often practiced by the Japanese director Suzuki Seijun in films like his classic Tokyo Drifter (1966 / trailer), if doped by speed, and in doing so really raises one's expectations — despite Woo's obnoxiously ridiculous swagger. Visually, most of the movie also continues to display the director's audaciousness and fine eye, but flash and dazzle alone and no story makes Jack a dull boy. And much like how even the most beautiful person in the world begins to get on one's nerve if they have no brain but like to talk, after about 15 minutes Nowhere to Hide begins to feel like a zipless fuck that is overstaying his or her welcome.
The opening scene really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie — though one could argue it presents the "character" of the lead policeman — and comes across a bit as if it were simply tacked on to stretch the running time, which makes it all the more odd that Nowhere to Hide was cut for its international release. After this stroboscopic sock 'em and shoot 'em scene, the movie moves to the main plot, but the plot is reduced to the point of inconsequentiality: bad guy introduced, bad guy chased, bad guy finally caught. It is — as the movie's final scene faintly refers, when the female lead (Choi Ji-Woo) walks past Woo and totally ignores him — an anorexic reduction of the bare bones of The Third Man (1949 / trailer) and a thousand other bad-guy-pursued films. But whereas in most films one scene follows the other and build towards a final, most of the various scenes of Nowhere to Hide seem to all stand alone with but the most gossamer of interlinkage. And as good as the scenes might be, once too often one really wishes that the obviously highly visually adroit director Myung-se Lee also had as much talent at scriptwriting and directing actors and had put a bit more time into the story and the direction of the performers instead of just constantly wowing us with his optical finesse.
After the pop-arty but pointless opening scene, the bare-bones story begins with a well-shot scene of a murder on an outside open stairwell that deserves brownie points not only for the excellence with which it is both set up and executed, but also for getting away with using the Bee Gees' Holiday without seeming stupid. (Why the "mysterious [killer] Sungmin" — an excellent Ahn Sung-Ki — should choose to involve so many minions in a job he could well have done himself does seem a bit odd, however.)
From there, we're introduced to the violent world of the Incheon police as they take a real "hands-on approach" to solving the murder, which proves to be part of drug underworld war. Some leads are followed, others are skipped over via a text board stating "so-and-so many days later" that gets shot full of bullets before the next impressively shot or dazzling scene commences. Often, like the naked child molester in the police station or the long drive to another town, the scenes are so extraneous to the story one wonders why they are even there. (To the director, we can only say: learn to kill your darlings.) Even Woo's visit to his sis, which can be at least written off as character development, seems extraneous simply for the fact that when a plot is as lean as in Nowhere to Hide — it's way leaner than that of Walter Hill's Driver (1978 / trailer), which says a lot — character development is fat. Why spend time on that when, if you are going to add padding, the story could way better use some decent inter-seaming?
When watching Nowhere to Hide on the flatscreen, and even on one of larger than average size, it quickly becomes obvious that the movie was not made for the device. It is a movie for the cinema, for the big screen, and on such a screen it is surely a visual overdose of great power, one with enough punch that its other flaws become secondary, perhaps even immaterial. But not many people have a home cinema, so the flaws — above all: uneven acting, a disjointed story, and one too many chase scenes — become noticeable and the film almost dull in its redundancies. The result, as we said: an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie that gives you the feeling you should like it more than it actually makes itself likable. (Try, if you might, to imagine a spicy beef burrito with dollops and dollops of spice, but no beef.)

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