Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nowhere to Hide (1999)


NOWHERE TO HIDE is a movie about cops chasing down a murderer, one who keeps using "Sabotage"-style disguises to avoid them.

That's it, that's the plot.

You're not even sure who he murdered, or why, and the route the cops take to capturing him are ill-explained and often baffling. But that's not the point, anyway.


I'll admit right now that you'll find better reviews of this film. I recommend checking out The AV Club Review, and one from Sense of Cinema. Which is, perhaps, to say that I have nothing to add to the discussion of NOWHERE TO HIDE. But I hope that isn't the case.

What the two reviews above share is a deep admiration for Lee Myung-se as a filmmaker, and a deep respect for this film in particular. I'm only guilty of the first of those two. NOWHERE TO HIDE left me cold, which is weird, because in many ways it's exactly the type of film I love to watch.


NOWHERE TO HIDE is an experimental film. This doesn't mean that it's an avant-garde film in the vein of EL TOPO or 8 1/2 or something; no, it's experimental in its aesthetics, not its storytelling. If I was being derisive, I'd say that it's experimental in the same way a film student's final project is experimental: in it, Myung-se uses trick upon trick, including film speeds, editing techniques, colour changes, freeze frames, you name it, to constantly keep the aesthetic of his film warping and changing.

Borrowing from the Sense of Cinema review, I see that Myung-se has described the film this way: "The story and the characters are not the main focus of my film. Movement is. This is a film about movement and kinetic energy."

And that's fine, and I get that, but the film's experimentation is still harnessed to an extremely conventional plot, and it's that plot that continues to drive the film, even if the aesthetics are what make it so interesting. Ideally, the experimentation in the film's visual would be used to reinforce some sort of thematic or narrative experimentation; instead, the conventionality of the plot undercuts the expressiveness of the film's images.


And so I find myself in the awkward position of thinking that, perhaps, a film should have been more conventional. I don't think I've ever made that statement before, and it perplexes me. So let me explain. Lead actor Park Joong-Hoon is a charming fellow, who reminds me a great deal of Song Kang-ho (THIRST, THE HOST). You immediately like him, so it's a shame that character remains so unimportant in this film. Adding some emotional content to his character, or at least some complexity, would go a long way to adding a real anchor to the film's experimentation.

Another note: while it's obviously a horrible idea to get an idea of the real-world situation of a country based on its cinema, I can't help but notice that Korean films continually depict the police as corrupt, ruthless, and (perhaps worst of all) incompetent. I have no idea if this is a reflection of the actual situation, or a convenient narrative device; I'd hate for someone from Korea to watch BON COP, BAD COP and assume that that's reflective of the Canadian police system. Still, it's such a recurring trope in modern Korean cinema that I'm left wondering.

NOWHERE TO HIDE might appeal to you, based on it's frenetic energy and kinetic excitement, but it left me wanting to watch something with a little more weight to it.

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