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Festival Film Review: Hide and Seek — Property Ladder meets Oldboy

Hide and Seek poster

Everyone wants a nice, secure home. And maybe, never satisfied, you might want to upgrade. Without these natural desires, estate agents and TV programmes such as Location Location Location and Property Ladder would not exist.

The opening film of the 2013 London Korean Film Festival was, as lead actor Son Hyun-joo joked, a family movie.1 And in a very literal way that was true: at the centre of the film is a happy, middle class family. But there was a reason why it had a 15 rating, and that was because it is one of the tensest thrillers to have come out of Korea for a while.

The idea for the sinister markings next to the apartments’ doorbells came from a real-life stalking case

One of the main premises to the plot was this: what happens when you are on the margins of society, and cannot afford an apartment of your own? Squatting is a possible option, provided you can find an empty house – and this was one of the premises of Kim Ki-duk’s 3-iron2. But what if you can’t find an empty house? Or if the house that you want isn’t empty? How do you acquire the ultimate in affordable housing?

What has he seen?
Whatever *that* is, he can’t let the fumes get in his lungs

There was another strand to the plot: a revenge story comprising long-suppressed guilty secrets relating to sibling betrayal. The brother of the lead male character has just been released from prison, and it looks like he’s got a few scores to settle. A significant amount of time is spent developing this thread, and we enjoy finding out why it is that the affluent, happily married man might have good reason to fear his outcast brother – and how it was that he developed his obsessive compulsive disorder.

So this, Huh Jung’s debut film, was Property Ladder meets Oldboy.

Hide and Seek Q+A
L to R: Festival interpreter Rho Seh-hyun; lead actor Son Hyun-joo; director Huh Jung; critic Tony Rayns at the Q&A following the screening of Hide and Seek (photo: LKL)

From the very beginning there is a feeling of menace, and debut Director Huh masterfully cranks the tension up and down, so that, although by the end you are exhausted by the scary bits, the pace is never relentless.

One of the best verdicts on the film came from an audience member in the Q&A afterwards: “I was so scared my contact lens fell out”

Oh dear - it looks like something bad is about to happen
Oh dear – it looks like something bad is about to happen

Maybe there’s nothing startlingly original in the movie, but it has no pretensions, it respects the genre conventions (down to laying the groundwork for a sequel), and delivers on the frights. It’s a highly enjoyable film and got the LKFF 2013 off to a splendid start.

Huh Jung (허정), Hide and Seek (숨바꼭질, 2013) score-2score-2score-2score-2score-0

  1. In fact, he joked that it was more of a family movie than many current TV drama series, where escalating pay packets of the star actors and restricted budgets mean that TV producers are having to cut back on family members – no uncles or aunts. This is a trend noted in a recent Financial Times article too:

    The going rate for an internationally popular star is now Won100m per episode, executives say. Cuts have to be made to accommodate the big names, notes Yoon Tae-jin, a professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “Suddenly the lead parts have no parents any more.”

    (Simon Mundy: South Korean soap operas hook foreign audiences, FT, 14 November 2013 – behind paywall)  []

  2. And coincidentally, a golf club is used in non-conventional ways in both films []

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