Nowhere to Hide

| May 13, 2002

Nowhere to Hide opens with a group of undercover cops on a stakeout. They’re sitting cramped in their cars, watching a cluster of shops located on a hillside area, with a wide expanse of stairs cascading down the hill and into the busy street. As they watch passersby go about their business, they also see the occasional gangster enter one of the shops. As they watch a young girl ascend the steps one of the baddies steps outside. At the same time it begins to rain. The young girl pulls out an umbrella and disappears into the crowd that rushes up the stairs. Suddenly a few men break off, sleek and black in the downpour, looking like a school of fish breaking from the stream. They swarm the bad guy and their knives flash and blood flows down the steps and into the gutters before the cops can get to him.
Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) is a slouching, bopping ape of a man, and the leader of his squad of street-smart cops. His partner, Detective Kim (Dong-Kun Jang), is probably the brightest of an easygoing, blue-collar group. This opening scene begins their embroilment into the months-long hunt for the brutal killer who murdered a drug kingpin on the city of Seoul’s centralized monument, the 40 Steps. The hunt will take them through the rest of the movie, many violent attacks and further deaths, as well as introducing them to a host of new criminals and their friends. Although Woo is the comic character to Kim’s straight-laced cop, there is no doubt that Woo is the leader. His unorthodox ways often get him into trouble, or escalate situations. But, much as it is with many American cops, he gets the job done. He has a family; a sister, her husband, and their son. He had a girlfriend, and laments not being in love, as he laments a good many things. Woo ends up being an extremely unusual cop and an imminently likeable character.
The killer is a driven, methodical character named Chang Sungmin (Sung-kee Ahn), who continuously frustrates the cops by eluding their best efforts. The perseverance of Woo and his squad have driven Sungmin into hiding. In a scene recalling the Keystone Cops, Woo & Co. lie in ambush in Sungmin’s girlfriend’s apartment. Juyon (Ji-Woo Choi) resists Woo’s playful harrassment as best she can, and the moment when Sungmin and his crew arrive at her apartment borders on slapstick. And when Sungmin’s mother dies, the cops know he will show up to pay his respects. But Sungmin is so stealthy they nearly miss him.
Written and directed by Myung-Sae Lee and Lee Myung-Se, Nowhere to Hide is filled with artistic cinematography, edgy style and full-on attitude. The camera work is often beautiful and thrilling, and at times reminded me of a series of painting, or a magnificently drawn comic book, the imagery and the storyline truly woven together in one cohesive entity. The climactic scene in a surreal rainstorm bookends the film perfectly with the opening on the 40 Steps.
Nowhere to Hide is now available on video and is getting a lot of airplay on cable. As an action film it’s one of the best, and the good scripting and cinematography help to keep your attention throughout. As an art film, I can only repeat that last comment. In either case, it’s a joy to watch.

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