Park Chan-Wook’s “Decision to Leave” Is as Tender as It Is Twisted

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September 28, 2022
Read Time: 3 minutes

Park Chan-wook is in his rom-com era, but he still manages to make something beautifully convoluted

 

 

We all know that Park Chan-wook is the mastermind behind cult-favorite South Korean films, from the bloody Vengeance trilogy to the erotic thriller, The Handmaiden. Whichever creation of his you’ve seen, Park’s reputation precedes him: a master of dark comedy and macabre with an impeccable eye for cinematography. He isn’t afraid to explore the taboo and the shocking through his films that have gained worldwide recognition. Even the New York Times called him the “Man That Put Korean Cinema on the Map.” But for Decision To Leave, the 2022 film that got him his first Best Director award from the annual Cannes Film Festival last May, Park explores the tender twistedness of romance.

 

 

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As far as plots go, Decision To Leave follows Hae-jun (Park Hae-Il), a dedicated detective from Busan who struggles to fall asleep. In his latest murder investigation, he meets Seo-rae, the young wife of the deceased and prime suspect in the case. But as Hae-jun discovers more facts about Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), her schedule, her job, her habits and her past, he falls harder than he’s supposed to. This comes quite troubling when all evidence points to a crime committed by Seo-rae.

 

When you chance upon Decision To Leave’s official description, it will tell you that the film is a “police procedural/romance,” which doesn’t seem like a conventional combination. But seeing it onscreen will make everything click, despite the questions on ethics and morals popping up in our heads. We witness the usual cycle of falling in love happening amid the processes of investigations, from expensive lunches during questioning to stakeouts transforming into shared intimate moments.

 

Park Chan-wook and co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong masterfully and seamlessly make technology integral to the romance. Seo-rae, a Chinese national based in South Korea, uses an automated translator to fully convey her thoughts. The voice recordings that Hae-jun uses to note evidence have some tones of infatuation and adoration, and eventually become love letters they bond over. Passcodes contribute to the facts of the case, and pedometer apps become the final puzzle piece.

 

 

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Performance-wise, the lead actors have the most magnetic chemistry heightened by the lack of physical contact. Park Hae-il’s performance of a burdened, sleepless cop who finds love in crime is both pitiful and strong. Tang Wei’s Seo-rae enchants even the viewer with her personality while keeping everyone second-guessing her true intentions and feelings. Decision To Leave has less of the explicit show of intimacy à la The Handmaiden, letting the two actors build tension through acts of service: hands coming together to apply hand cream on calloused palms, breathing exercises that help Hae-jun finally fall asleep and sealing their unfortunate fate with a kiss.

 

All in all, Decision To Leave is a tragic love story with Park Chan-wook’s signature knack for twisted narratives and perfect framing. He may have entered his rom-com era with sweet dialogues and effortless humor littered in some sequences, but all get evened out by a revelation. But like a moth drawn to a flame, Hae-jun and Seo-rae fall into temptation. And by extension, the audience will also find themselves fascinated with the push and pull of them both, and their romance’s inevitable demise.

 

 

“Decision To Leave” first showed in select Philippine cinemas for the Korean Film Festival: Seoul Spotlight by Ayala Malls, in partnership with VIVA International Pictures and MVP Entertainment.

 

 

Art Matthew Ian Fetalver

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