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Original Title:
Injeong sajeong bol geot eobtda

South Korea 1999

Crime, Thriller, Comedy

Lee Myung-se

Park Joong-Hoon
Jang Dong-Kun
Ahn Sung-kee
Choi Ji-Woo
Lee Won-jong
Park Sang-Myeon
Lee Hae-eun

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Nowhere to Hide

Story: On a rainy day a man gets killed on a stairway in the open street. The now called "40-steps-murdercase" is taken care of by Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) and Kim (Jang Dong-Kun) as well as their team on high priority, since this whole incident seems to have to do with the doings of a drug cartel. Soon, Woo captures a low-life gangster, who can help out with some useful information. Woo chases after every hint he gets, but he only starts to make progress in his investigation when locating the murderer's girlfriend. Naturally, she isn't very helpful at first, but with his straight and rude behavior Woo eventually has success.
When it finally comes to a confrontation between the police and the killer, named Sungmin (Ahn Sung-kee), a dangerous chase takes place at which end Sungmin manages to escape. For Woo this means to start his investigation all over again, but even on the following encounters Sungmin can always slip through the police's net. The case becomes more explosive, but Woo isn't discouraged at all and so it seems inevitable for the two to clash in a last decisive battle.

Review: As a viewer you are sometimes put into a difficult position to choose. What's more important to you in a movie? Story, character development, tension, the actors or just the style? If you answered with latter, then "Nowhere to Hide" is just your cup of tea. Because style you will find in masses. Director Lee Myung-se ("The Duelist") shows that he believes that the most important thing in a movie isn't the content, but the way a moviemaker is able to enchant the viewer's senses. To be fair, he manages to do exactly that really good. However, with its style the movie in the end raises expectations that it can't answer in any way with regards to the story or content in general. What you get from this film strongly depends on what you are looking for in a movie.

The first pictures completely shot in black and white already promise an artistic masterpiece. There are lots of freeze frames to be impressed by, which' colors suddenly turn into those of a small painting. Lots of jump-cuts, alterations in the speed the frames are shot, slow motion, as well as uncommon and sometimes odd camera angles are pleasing to the eyes. While some of the repetitive effects look like as if someone had too much time toying with some sort of image editing software, the dynamic camera movements sure deserve to be praised. It's rare that simple chasing or action scenes are that full of energy as it is the case here. Some of the shots have become pretty long which only adds to the dynamic style of the film.
Director Lee configurated his movie with lots of small gadgets of which some are working out pretty well. For instance there is the confrontation between Woo and a gang member, that is visualized only by the fighting shadows of the two while the following physical struggle is suddenly turned into a dance by some inserted waltz-like music.

As already said, there is really lots of style. Even the frequent slow-mo sequences manage not to become dull. Additionally, the events are always accompanied by a fitting soundtrack. At times it is some quite piano at others we get rocking guitar sounds. The musical alternations are nearly as good as the visual ones.
A few critics argue that Lee Myung-se's movie is nothing more than an overrated music video and they would be right if it weren't for the fact that Lee mixes his style with the one of let's say a Wong Kar-Wai. You can make out without a doubt that lots of his camera shots are pure art, indeed.
However, are these artistic dispositions an excuse for disregarding the content? No. If you would at least do it like Mr. Ryuhei Kitamura and imbue your movie with some entertainment at the same time, then it's excusable if the plot isn't that inventive. But that's just not the case, here. The story is so simple, that every random cop-tv-series can come up with something better in no time. Above all else, the plain cops-chase-criminals theme is everything but thrilling.

One of the worst sore points are the characters. Woo is a brutal cop, who as he tells us himself would be also a thug if he hadn't become a policeman. His figure remains, as it is with every other character, too, very one-dimensional. Later on, we get to know that he has a sister, maybe to give him at least something of a background, but ultimately this all feels way too forced. The other actors also don't provide us with any mentionable performances, but instead brawl through gangster bulks with several sorts of clubs in best Korea manner most of the time, and one just has to ask oneself why the gun has been invented.
Even Ahn Sung-kee ("Musa") as the killer can't show anything of his acting skills. The plain story and the colourless characters are the more dashy as they stand in obvious contrast to the fabulous wrapping.
Moreover, there is never any tension. One of the reasons for this is that the film feels like a randomly assembled whole. Oftentimes there is nothing happening at all, not even a single word is spoken and out of the blue there emerges a new hint, which the policemen instantly start to chase after. The relationship between the characters is also very distant, only one single scene between Woo and Kim on a playground is a welcome exception to this.
There are several action sequences, yet even here nothing really outstanding is happening. Nonetheless, they look very stylish. But it can't be helped - they just lack essence. The only somehow tense scene is the one on a train, but until then several lengthy minutes have to be endured.

Well, there is also something positive that comes to my mind. That's the humour. It's almost ever subtle situational comedy and results from the dynamic style of the scenes. Especially the scene in which we see several officers scuttling through the narrow and windy streets one after another in one shot, have a somewhat odd but great humouristic character.
At the bottom line, however, there is just disappointment. "Nowhere to Hide" may be art, but this is no patent to have the right to make the audience feel bored. There is no story, you can't sympathize with the characters, the movie on many occassions doesn't know where to go and the thrilling factor is missing, too. And for all this the great aesthetic eye of the director should be able compensate? No, I cannot and won't make it so easy for "Nowhere to Hide".
If you view a painting you expect that there is something standing behind it, that the artist wanted to express something. Even a song that is as always about stuff like love etc. can be appealing when at least the melody is entertaining. But nothing of that is the case with this movie.
Nonetheless, if you are curious about the with no doubt impressive artistic merits maybe you will have a better time with the movie than I had. As long as you don't expect anything else...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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