There is something both delightful and exhausting about Lee Myung-Se’s Nowhere To Hide. On one hand, the director plays with form to turn a dead-simple police procedural film into an evocative avant garde experiment; a clothesline for hanging every manner of stylistic tic and exudation of cinematic coolness. On the other, it’s entirely too damn long for such a simple conceit. Nevertheless, its sheer bravado and high gloss make it one of the key films to kick off the stylish Korean New Wave of the early 21st century. The movie plays at “11,” style-wise, for much of its runtime. But true to the Korean idiom, it has a plethora of tonal changes both within scenes and also by the (tenuous) glue connecting the film together. Occasionally it even stops for a brief The Third Man-esque impractical romance – to the point where it scene-checks the wonderful ending of the Carol Reed film. Fans of the third Matrix film will notice that the Wachowski Brothers borrowed the final fist fight (in heavy rain) from this film for the epic show-down between Neo and Agent Smith. So the film is a equal opportunity borrower and lender and that is the way it should be; cultural appropriation and so it goes. But that is not the scene I wish to highlight with this Finite Focus. There is something even better.
Never is the ‘lets just be so goddamn cool’ more apparent than this scene which uses an early Bee Gees song — yes, you heard that right: maximum coolness via The Bee Gees — over the murder on a stairwell that kicks off the ‘plot.’ Using freeze frames, slow motion, jump cuts, exotic camera movement, staccato step-printing and more to make a triad murder ring out with visual (and aural) poetry. It is all in the shot-by-shot extreme attention to detail which making things creep towards the sublime, a melancholy opera on a moment to moment basis. This is certainly the hallmark of Lee Myung-Se who carried this unique style on-wards across genres: wuxia (The Dualist), dream-logic (M) and soon, hopefully into the spy comedy territory with the forthcoming riff on True Lies, Mr. K.