A very close remake of Huh Jung’s 2013 Korean sleeper hit of the same title, Liu Jie’s Hide and Seek tells of Zhang Jiawei (Wallace Huo), who enjoys a comfortable life in Qingdao City, running a high-end coffee shop and living in a luxury building with his wife Pingzhi (Wan Qian) and their daughter. This idyllic picture is only marred by his struggle with mysophobia and visions of his older brother, with whom he severed all ties after he went to prison for a rape he may not have committed. Now the brother is out and lives in a rundown, soon-to-be-demolished block of flats. One day, Jiawei is contacted by his brother’s landlord, who claims he has not been paid rent for a while. After visiting the old building, talking to the landlord and meeting a terrorized single mother (Qin Hailu), he realizes his brother may have become a stalker and worse, may be the murderer of a young woman (Jessie Li) who lived next door to him.
As a remake, Hide and Seek does little to justify its existence. It takes place in the same decade, and moving the action from South Korea to China doesn’t yield any interesting discrepancies. The original’s plot is followed very closely with only slight alterations (the lead couple now has an only child instead of two children), and the cast isn’t much starrier. It’s obvious that this near-carbon copy is simply meant to bring the 2013 South Korean thriller’s concept to the wide Chinese public, and this simple fact mitigates all the qualities of Liu Jie’s film, all the more so as the flaws of the enjoyable original have not been fixed. We will nevertheless try to appraise it on its “own” merits, that it to say as if Huh Jung’s film didn’t exist.
Liu Jie’s direction is taut, precise and often understatedly elegant; the run-down building at the center of the plot is a terrific set captured beautifully by cinematographer Li Ran, and contrasted effectively to the lead couple’s squeaky clean gated residence, in a visual encapsulation of the film’s underlying class war dynamic: they are constantly under threat from lower class or homeless foes, some real, some imagined as a result of paranoia or guilt. Suspense is sharp as a scalpel, with simple but devilishly effective home invasion and car park stalking scenes shot with a minimum amount of jump scares or editing tricks, and a throbbing sense of panic that is as humanly relatable as it is deliciously entertaining. The central mystery is less interesting once it is fully unravelled, but nevertheless throws in clever red herrings and intriguing visual cues, such as a geometric code used by the killer to mark his potential victims. The wheel isn’t reinvented, but instead given a classy finishing.
However, much the original, Hide and Seek is occasionally plagued by illogical and infuriating plot turns that create tension out of mind-numbingly stupid decisions or oversights on the part of the characters. Witness this mother who, after letting her daughter out of her sight for a few minutes in a seedy neighborhood to make a phone call, and nearly losing her to a demented hobo, still manages to repeatedly leave her unattended (in a car park, on a playing ground…). Or this character who, having managed to momentarily knock out the killer, just limps around ineffectively instead of making sure his assailant remains incapacitated. Still, while the characters (and by that we mean, the writing) occasionally annoy, the cast is quite good. Wallace Huo’s impassible performance serves his role and the central mystery well, while Wan Qian manages to keep her character likable despite her countless oversights. But it’s Qin Hailu who, in turns affecting and chilling, impresses as a key character who doesn’t show her cards into late in the film.
Long Story Short: A remake so faithful to the original that it does little to justify its existence, Hide and Seek is nevertheless tautly directed, well acted and often gripping, if occasionally marred by nonsensical character behavior. ***1/3