Sunday, June 8, 2014

Straight to DVD: South Korean chills and thrills in Jung Huh's creepy, jolting HIDE AND SEEK

I am trying to recall a movie with more heavy-duty red herrings than are found in HIDE AND SEEK, the new chiller/thriller from South Korean, first-time filmmaker Jung Huh. But I'm coming up empty. I don't mean this as a complaint, because all those red herrings seem like something else as this creepy mystery unravels. At only 107 minutes (the film is relatively short by South Korean standards), it packs in plenty of plot and suspense. There's a missing brother, adoption, long buried family secrets, a large apartment house in a run-down part of the city, together with a flock of tenants who seem frightened out of their wits. And then there are those weird markings by the bell of each apartment door....

I doubt that you'll be bored or inattentive, as Hide and Seek rolls confidently along under the steady hand of writer/ director Jung (shown at left). And then, at around 40 minutes prior to finish, when the movie actually gets at the heart of things, it takes off like the proverbial bat out of hell and you'll be on the edge of your seat, breathless, from there onwards. And if you think perhaps you were somehow "cheated" -- maybe "fooled" is a better word, as it also applies to our leading character -- by that first hour, I believe you'll agree that those last 47 minutes more than make up for it. Plus, we get little lessons in class, economics, sibling rivalry, over-entitled children and a bunch else along the way.

After more than a decade of seeing and thinking about South Korean cinema, I admit to still being somewhat flummoxed at how its filmmakers keep achieving as much as they do -- in whatever genre they tackle.

Part of it is that they simply go farther afield -- in plot contrivance/conniptions, blood and gore (when necessary, and sometimes even when not) and sheer inventiveness and surprise, to which they then add a kind of sheen and gloss than even our own movie-makers cannot top. (For the kind of intelligent, creative blockbuster as yet unmade by Hollywood, get ready for Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer, which I'll cover when it opens later this month.)

Now back to Hide and Seek: Again, there's that combination of inventiveness and surprise that knocks you for a loop. Add to this the usual smart casting, particularly in this movie's three leading actors. Son Hyeon-ju (above) makes his father figure decent but awfully repressed. Hence we're pretty much ready for anything to surface here. And it does.

As his pretty, pert little wife (a role that Doris Day might have handled, if Ms Day were younger and Korean),  Moon Jung-hee (above in blue) is sweet and motherly, if also a tad entitled (well, she's from a wealthy Korean-American family) who possesses a nice reserve of strength when needed.

And finally, there is Jeon Mi-seon (center, left, above) as the very caring mother who lives in that vile apartment complex with her young daughter. Ms Jeon is a marvel, and this is a performance you simply must experience to believe. It is one for the books.

Hide and Seek -- now the third film to be distributed via Ram Releasing (the genre arm of Film Movement) and certainly the best of the three -- hits the streets this Tuesday, June 10, for sale or rental. 

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