A thriller so cool, you’ll forgive that its hero is a reprehensible brute

A thriller so cool, you’ll forgive that its hero is a reprehensible brute

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Before gawking at the bone-snapping mayhem of The Raid2, get your adrenaline fix with some ultraviolent action movies.

Nowhere To Hide (1999)

Movies about cops and robbers frequently—too frequently, to be honest—depict the two groups as kindred spirits, two sides of the same coin. Nowhere To Hide, from South Korea, dares to take that equivalency a step further. Made in 1999 and released (barely) in the U.S. a year later, the film follows a bulldog of a detective named Woo (Park Joong-hoon) as he tracks a dapper killer (Ahn Sung-kee), and its structure ensures that Woo is our primary identification figure. Complicating matters considerably, however, is the fact that Woo is a sadistic, obsessive nutcase, prone to beating the living shit out of every potential suspect who crosses his path. Were Nowhere To Hide a searing character study, in the tradition of, say, Bad Lieutenant, that would be easier to stomach, but psychology is the last thing on director Lee Myung-se’s mind. Consequently, the movie sometimes comes across as if it’s actively celebrating police brutality—an attitude one might expect from a North Korean movie, perhaps, but not one set in Incheon.

Some critics objected at the time, but their complaints were ill founded. While this might be a bad film for certain impressionable types to watch, it’s so blatantly a shallow—but stunning—exercise in pure style that condemning it on moral grounds seems pointless. If Nowhere To Hide is “about” anything, it’s about making every single shot as preternaturally cool as possible. Lee shoots prolonged fistfights entirely via shadows on walls. Wrestling matches abruptly turn into delirious waltzes. At one point in the opening brawl, which is shot in black and white, an especially kinetic moment is interrupted by no fewer than five split-second freeze-frames, each one splashed with color as if a child had colored it with crayons. Imagine the Hong Kong action film abstracted to such a degree that it begins to feel as much like Stan Brakhage as John Woo, and you’ll start to get the idea, though that doesn’t convey its waggish sense of humor. It’s impressionism, pure and simple, and that purity and simplicity are what make it so immensely appealing in spite of the hollow sound it makes when you thump it. And also what makes it possible to ignore the thug with a badge at its center.

Availability: Nowhere To Hide is available on DVD and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.


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