Back in college it took me a while to get into Korean cinema. Unlike Hong Kong and Japanese films my exposure to Korean films was extremely limited. When I started buying and importing a lot of Asian cinema (that still makes up the bulk of my DVD collection) I began to notice more and more of my film selections were coming from Korea. In fact in my opinion their cinema has done something neither Japan nor Hong Kong have been able to do and that’s be its own industry. By that I mean that Korea doesn’t imitate (though there is always going to be some imitation, no country is excluded from that), but rather innovate. It doesn’t attempt to be Hollywood junior, but rather it is Korean cinema and Hide and Seek illustrates that perfectly. Creepy and terrifying are perhaps the only words that can describe Hide and Seek. It is a thriller with light moments of horror, but where it really excels is in its ability to terrify you. It is not a movie you watch by yourself when your significant other is out-of-town or the family is away for the night. And while it terrifies and creeps you out to the tenth fold, it also laces in a subtle amount of social commentary. It’s something you either pick up on or you don’t.
The story follows Sung-soo; he’s OCD to the max and is forced to take medication for it otherwise he can’t function in society. He owns a business, has a lovely wife and two perfect kids and in general has the perfect life in the city. That of course doesn’t last as he’s called by the landlord of his estranged brother. Well estranged isn’t quite right; his brother is part of the reason he’s OCD as he has a skin condition. Due to an event in their past they don’t talk and Sung-soo has intentionally not been in contact; mostly because his brother is in and out of jail for sexual assault. Out of guilt Sung-soo goes to find his brother who the landlord says is missing and behind on rent. This is where things get even stranger.
Upon arriving at the apartment Sung-soo begins looking into his brother’s things and finding women’s clothing that’s just not lining up with the info from the manager. He’s confused by this and wonders what the hell his brother is up to. Meanwhile his wife is winning mother of the year as she lets her kids play out in the street of an unsafe neighborhood. A man who looks a bit mentally handicapped begins waving at the wife and she freaks out about her kids. Lo-and-behold they’re gone. She frantically runs around looking for them and eventually comes back to her car to find them in the back seat and the strange man in the front seat pretending to drive. Another mother comes to her rescue and scares the man off. She lives in the same apartment complex as the brother and offers to host the family that is very rattled and out of their element.
Conversation begins, about the building and it’s likeliness of being torn down. The perfect children want nothing to do with the poor ladies kid and you can’t really blame them as she has her eye patched and lives in the slums, while they’re rich and always have been. Sung-soo yells at his daughter to allow the little girl to play with her doll and the first things she does is rub her patched eye on it. Like what the fuck. Of course the subject of the brother comes up and the woman freaks out. She kicks them out and tells Sung-soo to tell his brother to stop watching them. He’s confused of course but she says that she can’t sleep at night because she’s up watching her daughter and protecting her from him.
Two major things happen at this moment as Sung-soo notices markings below each doorbell of the apartments. He figures out that it indicates who lives in side. One man, two kids, that kind of thing. He freaks out because it’s below every door bell. During the opening and after this scene we learn that there’s a rumor going around about squatters living inside of people’s homes without them knowing.
Sung-soo sends his wife home without him and stays behind to figure out where his brother is and what he’s up to. The wife is upset, but she heads home. Little does she know that she’s being followed. Eventually Sung-soo ends up back home only to discover the same markings below his doorbell and the doorbells of everyone else in his building.
I haven’t told you anything that’s not in the trailer and the reason being is that final element. To come from the slums of another city to your luxury apartment that has security cameras, 24/7 guards and is essentially a small fortress and yet… here are the markings indicating, with accuracy, who lives inside each apartment.
Creepy, yes. Terrifying, certainly.
Without a doubt the story is scary. The twist and turns of the mystery are rewarding and will leave you guessing about the outcome. The parts I want to talk about, the rewarding stuff at the end… I can’t. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but man-oh-man does this story get good.
The social commentary comes in to play about security first and foremost. That’s the easy one as it asks “how safe is anyone?” The answer of course is that safety is an illusion as this film demonstrates. Human beings will always find a way. Always. I mean homeless people living inside of your house without you seeing them… you might as well change your pants now.
The other commentary is more subtle and actually something that I doubt a lot of people will pick up on. A lot of the movie is about the “haves” and the “have nots” and with that possessions in general. It’s illustrated perfectly as the son wants the new DS. He needs it. He’s addicted to things. This even saves the kids at one point as they recognize something that belongs to their mother. Again though, possessions. They and their mother know what is theirs and what is not. To go into it more I would have to talk about the ending and so rather than do that I would encourage you to keep this commentary in mind while you watch it and you’ll see what I mean.
The film has been brought over the North America for a home release and if you like or love thrillers then for sure check this film out. It’s one of the best Korean films I’ve watched in a long time, you know what? Slated that it’s one of the best films I’ve watched in a long time.
Director/Writer: Huh Jung Distributor: Ram Releasing Run Time: 107 Min