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[HanCinema's Hall of Fame Review] "Hide and Seek": A lost and lacklustre lemming.

2014/05/10

In the Spotlight this Week: Huh Jung's "Hide and Seek"...

2013 was an epically successful year for Korean cinema. Box office admissions skyrocketed, top-tier directors like Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, and Kim Jee-woon made their 'English-language' debuts, a number of indie films and animations received praise, and there were a few notable newcomers that made their mark. Among the successful debutants was Huh Jung with his low-budget thriller "Hide and Seek"; an atmospheric entry that attracted over 5.6 million filmgoers during its five-week run in the top ten, and also scored its writer/director the Best New Director honour at the 33rd Korean Association of Film Critics Awards. Impressive accolades, to be sure, but did Jung's opening really find what it was looking for?

After a tense and well-crafted opening scene we are introduced to Seong-soo (Son Hyun-joo), a successful business/family man whose estranged and deviant brother appears to have gone missing. Plagued by a traumatic childhood and the death of his parents, Seong-soo cannot resist visiting his alienated brother's dwelling and discovering for himself the truth of the matter. His shabby apartment is in a rundown part of town (a far cry from his own swank residence in Seoul), and the interior is equally drizzled with dust, neglect and clutter. Upon closer examination, Seong-soo notices a number of curious remnants of his black-sheep sibling, hints at his questionable lifestyle that gets confirmed by a curious, and seemingly traumatised, neighbour. After probing around some more, Seong-soo and his family become the target of a mysterious figure whose twisted intent throws this nuclear family into a magnificent meltdown.

"Hide and Seek" is a stiff and moderately satisfying affair. The pre-title chapter is a dark, goose-pimply primer to the film's themes of domestic derangement and violence. Shadows and paranoia befriend each other well here but, sadly, the film loses touch with this initial thrill and drags us through its flawed game all the way to its bombastic climax. The mystery factor is high and mighty, stimulating real interest that ultimately failed to make good on its opening promises. Confused red herrings, clumsy use of screen space, unbelievable narrative hinges, and over-dramatic encounters plagued the film and seemed to gather momentum as its narrative ineptitudes snowballed and sullied scene after scene.

This was an honest shame because "Hide and Seek" demonstrated promising potential through glimpses of crafty camerawork and creepy set-ups. Many times throughout Jung's piece I was genuinely caught-up in the mystery and mayhem, but as the search continued I found my suspension of disbelief harder and harder to maintain. The odd stunning shot or well-acted moment (coming mostly from, surprisingly, the three youngster in the film: Jung Joon-won, Kim Su-an, and Kim Ji-young-III) were invigorating, but these spikes of satisfaction were short-lived and often followed by equally distracting compositional demons and narrative niggles that were just too blatant to bypass.

There are a lot of good reasons to watch "Hide and Seek", again it claimed a healthy chunk at the box office and won its maker a critical award, but as a riveting experience the film fluctuates and falters enough to scuff its score well below what Korean cinephiles have come to expect from a quality thriller. There were flecks of competence shown by Huh Jung, genuine creative gusto that I believe will follow and serve this promising talent in the future. But for now, however, "Hide and Seek" finds itself lost in a sea of fatal flaws without a breeze to barter with.

- C.J. Wheeler (chriscjw@gmail.com@KoreaOnTheCouch)

 

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