NOWHERE TO HIDE (1999)
Director: Lee Myung-se
Run time: 1h 37m
An over-stylised action crime outing that still provides thrills as an obsessive detective chases an elusive killer
The widely distributed ‘Tartan Asia Extreme’ DVD of Nowhere to Hide has emblazed across its front ‘A SURE-FIRE HIT WITH FANS OF HARD BOILED’, a reference to the 1992 Hong Kong action thriller.
Further still on the front is the quote ‘Is Hollywood ready for the next John Woo?’, the director of Hard Boiled.
It would be unthinkable today to sell a Korean film by latching onto a Hong Kong one from years prior. Today there is a more nuanced understanding of Asian cinema in the West, while Korean action films have established themselves as some of the best in the world.
However, there is little doubt that Lee Myung-se set-out to make a Hong Kong-inspired action film on home soil with Nowhere to Hide, a feat he largely achieves in this over-stylised but never dull police procedure feature.
The film plays out as a reference guide to every form of stylised action you can imagine. There are jump cuts, colour morphs, super slow-mo fighting. It opens on a disorientating monochrome fight scene, then moves into full palette colour.
While most of the soundtrack is that generic action-film-rock sound, there is some surprising variety too, including for the key murder that the film’s narrative arch hangs on, where this event happens to Holiday, a psychedelic and melancholy early Bee Gees song.
Hot-headed, violent and obsessive Detective Woo (Park Joong-hoon) is hunting a killer who murdered a man on the 40–step stairway, a historic stairway in the Jung District of Busan.
Woo has no personal life and works around the clock, with a love of lengthy stakeouts and roughing up potential underworld informants. He is the opposite of his partner Detective Kim Dong-seok (Jang Dong-gun), a rational and calm family man.
This odd couple join with other detectives to hunt the mysterious assassin Jang Seong-min (Ahn Sung-ki), eventually plotting an entrapment plan and leading towards a now famous final face-off between Woo and Jang.
The plot is thin and by-the-book. The film instead focuses on how many differing styles of effects it can produce, managing to serve-up a smorgasbord of differing approaches.
However, there was enough here to suspect that once Director Lee had established his preferred style, this could be wrestled into a slightly neater package in future films. Unfortunately, Lee would only made two further films – Duelist (2005) and M (2007).
For fans of the Korean action genre, this is a much-watch for the way it splinters itself into so many styles, many of which would become increasingly common in the genre. This means there is plenty to enjoy about Nowhere to Hide, even if its generic and paper-thin plot leaves you with a sense of style (in the multiple sense) over substance.
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