‘Hide and Seek’ can be a scary game

The justifications of men who kill should always be heard with skepticism, said the monster

Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Title
Hide and Seek (2016)
Genre
   Horror, Suspense, Thriller
Written by
Directed by
 Jie Liu 
Country of Origin
 China  
Running Time
105 minutes 

 oh! … brief

A strangely obsessive man, Zhang Jiawei, lives in a beautiful apartment with his wife, Pingzhi, and their daughter, Zhang Zimeng. He suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorders and mysophobia which makes his life very complicated. Estranged from his older brother at a very young age, when he receives news that he is missing, he starts a frantic search to locate him wanting to make amends. However, a stranger wearing a motorcyclist’s helmet and wielding an umbrella keeps getting in his way. He believes this stranger is his long-lost brother wanting to enact revenge. But not everything is as it seems.

oh! … talks film

 I hadn’t been planning on watching this film, not yet anyway, but I was suffering from a bout of insomnia last night and decided to just go ahead and watch in bed using Netflix.

This film is a remake of the original South Korean film of the same name, Hide and Seek, which first was released in 2013. That film, the original, was inspired by the true events of a mentally unfit woman who planned on murdering a family and moving into their apartment.

 I love my horror, suspense, thriller genres and this film with the added benefit of Taiwanese actor Wallace Huo was the perfect option to keep me entertained while hoping for sleep. Of course, it’s now almost lunchtime as I draft this review and I’m fatigued from the lack of sleep, but, I’m not going to complain because I had my worth of eye candy before I did eventually drift off.

I know, I know, I’m going about this the wrong way! I should be watching the original South Korean film first, instead of watching the remake, but I’m not too bothered about it because each body of work will be its own story regardless of whether it’s a simple remake or an entirely new production based off an original. And I’m not that into comparing originals versus remakes anyway.

Jie Liu and Peng Ren, writers of the screenplay, made very few changes to the original screenplay. Apart from moving the story to Qingdao City in the Shandong Province of China and the fact that the established couple that the murderous psychopath is targeting has one child, a girl, instead of two.

The screenplay was disappointing, to say the least. For a suspense, thriller or horror genre, the way things play out is beyond belief – seriously! In these modern times, what female would get into an elevator with a guy wearing a motorcycle helmet that you cannot make out the features of who is beneath? And if you are so stupid as to do something like that then you deserve whatever you get!! Honestly! And another thing … when you hear strange sounds outside your door or in the apartment next door to you, you don’t go wandering around the corridors of the apartment building in search of what is making the noise. No! You stay safely secluded in your apartment with the doors and windows locked and call the police or a strapping guy to come rescue you. Duh! Also, after you nearly lose your daughter to a demented homeless guy in a seedy part of town, why would you continue to ‘leave’ your child unattended? Makes no sense whatsoever! Even if you do what I’ve suggested, you can still make a relatively decent suspenseful and thrilling film, you just change things up a little and take away from the mundane and typical hum drum copy-cat syndrome that so many of these types of films suffer from.

I’d have liked to see more character development for Zhang Jiawei. Yes, you understand from early on that he is suffering serious mental health issues with the obsessive, compulsive behaviours and the paranoid fear of germs etc. (mysophobia), but there’s never an actual reasoning why he suffers this man. Sure they allude to a guilty conscience, but that isn’t enough in my mind to explain the irrational fear and compulsive behaviour. It’s a part of this character left unexplored and unexplained, but, this could very well have been an area for exploration and potential room for improvement, at least in my opinion.

The things the screenplay did get right was the distinct contrasts between the upper class and lower class, this was visually captured through Liu Jie’s tight yet understated precision in camera work. The suspense is well stressed and heightened by the very real and some imagined paranoia and guilt. And the obvious war between classes is the social narrative for this story. Li Ran, the cinematographer behind the cameras, did such a fantastic job with capturing all the chaos of the seedier side of town versus the pristine beauty of the manicured gated residence and all the madness of the crazy stalking scenes and manipulations of the helmeted nutcase to gain entrance to various locations. Kudos to production designer Zhai Tao for the great replication of the seedy apartment building and apartments and for finding the perfect shooting location for the fancy upper-class condominium building.

Of course, the screenplay keeps the big reveal of the mysterious helmeted psychopath to as close to the end as possible, but, there are enough clues along the way for you to clue into who the evil-doer is. Perhaps this is the best part of the screenplay, whether this particular film, or the original, the craft use of red herrings and visual cues to mislead.

Jie Liu’s directing flaws for this production were glaring – the pacing was off entirely. The film begins with a pretty intense 10 or 15 minutes but then lulls, only to intensify later and this is repeated several times with intense action followed by a lull and then more intense action once again. It’s pretty mind-numbing for this type of drama.

The action scenes are however really great and beautifully captured. Wallace Huo does remarkably well with fighting off the crazy attacker, more than a few times, but so too does Wan Qian. Of course, the best action comes from Qin Hailu, but I wonder how much of it was a stunt double under that impenetrable helmet?

The wardrobe created by costume designer Chen Yuye, was another chance to depict the social class differences and Jie Liu pulled this one off with more than a little flare. The locations which I’ve already alluded to were specifically chosen to also depict the differences in the classes – the rundown and almost falling apart, the filthy apartment building in a seedy side of town versus the opulent and classy condominium building kept secure and tidy behind tall gates. Neither of the two is made safe and just goes to show one that it doesn’t matter where you are, if someone wishes you harm, they can get to you. The accompanying score for the film was produced by South Korea’s Bang Jun-seok.

The female actresses were stronger in performance than their male counterparts for this particular film.

Wallace Huo, who I absolutely am smitten with, played Zhang Jiawei to perfection! I saw criticism of his performance as being ‘bland’ or ‘flat’ or even ‘wooden’, and this is true, but it’s also an accurate reflection of people who are obsessive-compulsive and germophobes. Their insecurities and fears keep them prisoner and as a consequence, they tend not to demonstrate externally any sign of emotion or personality. Also, it is hard for obsessive-compulsive and mysophobic people to maintain relationships so it was interesting to see this character, married and successful, and a father. I think Wallace Huo’s interpretation was excellent. I also liked the fact that he performed the stunts for his character’s performance. The chemistry between Zhang Jiawei and Pingzhi his wife was tangible and strained.

Wan Qian played Pingzhi and while she comes across as classy and smart, she’s actually pretty dumb as a character, given her countless mistakes in protecting her daughter and herself. She’s not even likeable, having airs and graces and it’s easy to decipher that she is from the upper class and has never lived in poorer conditions. I think Wan Qian gave a solid and strong performance. Like I wrote earlier, the women really carry this film with their performances. Wan Qian delivers believable emotions and personality, I just found the character’s sensibilities were beyond imagination, but that is more to do with the writing of the screenplay than anything else.

Su Hong the supposed neighbour to Zhang Jiawei’s brother was played by Qin Hailu and her performance was phenomenal. Initially, I suspected that this woman was unhinged, but I didn’t suspect that she was the helmeted nutcase. With time though that becomes more apparent, be sure to watch for the language she uses and the things she says. Qin Hailu had her character’s insanity well enough in the beginning but as things start to unravel and the story takes a downward spin it is harder to keep a lid on her bubbling delusions.

oh! … sidekicks

Supporting roles were played well by cast members, chosen to suit their characters.

Chun Xia plays the murdered Lulu and has the most exciting start to the film. I relished every nail-biting aspect. Unfortunately, because of the minor role, there’s not much to say other than the performance was fitting to start this suspenseful thriller.

The two minors, as in age and not necessarily roles, were played by two very talented young girls.

Zhang Zimeng, the young daughter of Pingzhi and Zhang Jiawei was played by little superstar Li Yiqing. This little girl gave a stellar performance in this rather scary production.

Lia Xiaoping is the young daughter of Su Hong and was played by Fan Qianhui. What I found most interesting about this character was the damned patch over the eye. I wonder if her mother’s insanity had something to do with it. I really wanted that explained, but I didn’t get that. Or did I miss it? I think this young lady, Fan Qianhui, gave a really strong performance as the oblivious child who doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on around her and what her mother is up. She comes off bland, but I suspect that had her character been developed better, there could be a strong backstory that could have been explored.

oh! … that’s a wrap

This film was passable. I’m not sure that I watched it in the right frame of mind, suffering from a night of insomnia didn’t add to the effects, but it may have detracted somewhat.

I found the screenplay poor on the whole – too many inconsistencies and too many gaps and the idea that the big reveal came too late and then everything spiralled – timing is everything in film-making and the timing was off.

The actresses carried this film with support from the male cast, but the acting is really what kept me watching.

I do recommend this film even with all the glaring flaws because it was entertaining and beautifully filmed. However, if you’re not a fan of horror, suspense or thriller you might want to give this one a miss. If you are a fan you also might want to give this one a miss because it’s not as good as it could be. For a night of insomnia, it’s passable to while away the hours.

It’s unlikely that I will watch this one again and this will not be a film that makes my collection.

oh! … tidbits

 The original Korean Hide and Seek, written and directed by first-timer Heo Jeong, was an unexpected hit that earned USD $35.6 million. With a budget of just over USD $2 million and a cast of relative unknowns, it was surprising the success.

Here’s a great interview with Wallace Huo on his experience in the filming of this production.

oh! … soundtrack

I haven’t been able to locate the accompanying soundtrack yet, but I’ll keep trying. Check back later.

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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