Saturday, February 22, 2014

In short: Hide and Seek (2013)

Original title: 숨바꼭질 (sum-bakk-og-jil)

When rich Seong-soo (Son Hyeon-joo) gets a call to take care of the apartment of his mentally instable and sporadically criminal brother Seong-cheol (Kim Won-hae) after Seong-cheol seems to just have disappeared, it at first looks like an opportunity for him to wallow in some childhood guilt towards his brother that has resulted in quite a few mental problems for himself too. However, something’s not right at all with the situation. Seong-cheol’s neighbours don’t want to talk about him, all the building’s apartments have been marked in tiny script beside their doors with the number of their inhabitants, and there’s a creepy shape in a motorcycle outfit the audience knows has already killed one girl with a practical iron rod slinking around. And that’s in addition to the more typical urban squalor people like Seong-soo generally don’t want to see.

So when he leaves Seong-cheol’s place, Seong-soo breathes a sigh of relief. This time around though, Seong-soo brings more than just his own psychological problems with him back home to his wife Min-ji (Jeon Mi-seon) and his two kids, and soon the motorcycle maniac shows a rather violent interest in him and his family. Is Seong-cheol out for revenge for the things Seong-soo is so guilty about, or is something else going on?

A film like Huh Jung’s Hide and Seek reminds me why I fell in love with South Korean cinema in the first place through its ability to take some very conventional ideas yet look at them from a slightly different angle and think them through with a bit more courage than usual.

Hide and Seek is of course using elements from home invasion movies as well as those 90s movies about happy families getting threatened by a lone psycho, just that the happy family here hasn’t been all that happy for quite some time thanks to the emotional repercussions of the big secret in Seong-soo’s past, standing in for all sorts of bourgeois guilt, I’m sure. Unfortunately, Hide and Seek also in the end shares these films’ dubious class politics, though I’m not sure the film is actually attempting to teach us about the evilness of poor people as much as it is just reproducing well-worn ideas because it would really rather concentrate on being a thriller.

And as a thriller, Hide and Seek is very successful. The film starts out slow and careful but once it has hit the point where Seong-soo begins to lose control of his too carefully controlled life, and stumbles into quite a different situation than he expected, it acquires more than enough drive to lets me ignore the more dubious parts of its politics. It also helps how careful the plotting is, with a big red herring that actually makes more sense once you’ve learned it’s a red herring, and just a wonderful feeling of escalation. Escalation of course being what this type of thriller is all about.

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