Nowhere to Hide (1999)

June 7, 2002 • Film, Reviews

Directed by Lee Myung-sae

Dissed by some, but in my opinion, a flawed masterpiece. Here is a director who has gone all-out to create something wholly original and purely visual, and the result is electrifying. It’s not so much the story — a simple tale of cops chasing a criminal — as the way it’s told, with ingenious experiments in color, rhythm and adrenaline-pumping movement, that send this story to the top of my list. And move this story does.

Characters chase each other on foot, in cars, on bicycles, into alleys, trains and rooftops. They chase each other through snow, rain and mud. The detectives chase morning, noon and night, attempting to find a drug lord believed to have brutally murdered his archrival.

The hunting pack of detectives are brutal, dumb and relentless in running down their man, stomping every suspect to within an inch of his life. Master criminal Sungmin, played by Ahn Sung-ki, is distinguished, solitary and brilliant, repeatedly outwitting their buffonish attempts.

And herein lies the rub: the detectives are the heroes who chase the bad guy, but they are also brutish thugs who beat and kill people. They attract and at the same time repel. Because of this, some people claim this movie advocates police brutality. It doesn’t sit well with our moral sensibilities of what a good guy and a bad guy are. Director Lee spoils our need to simplistically root for the good guy by making him a bit ugly as well.

Park Joon-hoon is a standout as the gleefully knuckle-dragging Detective Woo, a Korean John Belushi. Park is equally matched by powerhouse actor Ahn Sung-ki who holds his own without one word of dialogue. Chang Dong-gun plays Detective Kim, Park’s moral barometer partner, the sole exception to the pack of crotch-scratching, suspect-pounding detectives.

Nowhere to Hide is an immensely enjoyable ride. It is a gorgeous film that is beautifully shot and makes the best use of music since 2001: A Space Odyssey. It does has a bump or two along the way (one too many chase scenes, lack of character development) that ultimately do not derail the film as it rockets to its satisfying and brilliant conclusion.

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