Film Reviews

Looking East

The Asian Film Festival, taking place this weekend, features a dozen exotic entries, only a few of which have ever screened locally; the range is impressive, from Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece Seven Samurai to John Woo's The Killer to Kinji Fukusaku's, ahem, banned-in-the-U.S. Battle Royale from last year. There's also the prerequisite anime: Yoskiaki's Kawajiri's Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, screening at midnight Friday at the Magnolia (the theater's sharing screens with the DMA). The fest kicks off Thursday night at the Magnolia with Nowhere to Hide, in which Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) and partner Kim (Jang Dong-Kun) track a murderous drug kingpin (Ahn Sung-Ki) through Seoul, using ruthless, brutal police tactics to bring the villain in. Veteran Korean writer-director Lee Myung-Se has fashioned a nonstop display of flashy visuals, obviously influenced by the John Woo school of action. But Lee has taken Woo's reliance on visual storytelling even further: One of the reasons Nowhere to Hide is the first Korean film to receive a broad American release is its minimal use of dialogue. In terms of plot and character, Nowhere to Hide owes a lot to The French Connection. Woo is patterned after Popeye Doyle, though in the long run he's a pussycat in comparison to Gene Hackman's take on that character. But plot and character are largely subsidiary here. Nowhere to Hide is definitely a "Hey, Ma, look at me!" kind of film--a stringing together of brilliantly hyped-up action scenes arranged around a thin story. Lee sometimes makes choices that undercut a scene's effectiveness: One lengthy rooftop fight loses much of its punch when the director makes it seem too comic, choreographing the hand-to-hand struggle to a tango on the soundtrack. And the final fight between Woo and Chang is simply too brutal and too long. But for the most part, he's basically concerned with keeping things moving--and this he does. There are chase scenes covered in single long tracking shots, together with slow motion, freeze frames and step-printing (a cross between the latter two). At one point there are old-fashioned thought balloons showing us the characters' fantasies. And there is a relentless, pumped-up soundtrack, with a broad range of music.
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Andy Klein

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