Decision to Leave, Park Chan-wook’s latest film, is set to be released in the United States on October 14th. The film has received praise from critics for its visuals and densely packed plot. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) will explore the charms of the film through this article.
A Thrilling and Mysterious Love Story
Introducing the Film, Decision to Leave
Decision to Leave is a 2022 Korean romantic mystery film starring Tang Wei and Park Hae-il. The film was directed by Park Chan-wook, well-known for producing The Handmaiden. Park won the award for Best Director at the 75th Cannes Film Festival with Decision to Leave. The film is currently available on YouTube, Naver, and Apple TV+ and the script book can also be purchased at local bookstores.
Synopsis of Decision to Leave
The plot focuses on the relationship between detective Jang Hae-joon (portrayed by Park Hae-il) and a Chinese woman named Song Seo-rae (portrayed by Tang Wei). Hae-joon is in a commuter marriage and routinely travels between Busan and Ipo during the weekends to see his wife. One day, he investigates the case of a man, Ki Do-soo, who falls to his death from a mountaintop. During the investigation process, he meets Seo-rae, the suspiciously nonchalant and enigmatic widow who works as a home care worker. As the investigation proceeds, Hae-joon becomes infatuated with Seo-rae, and the two eventually develop a relationship, through somewhat unusual circumstances…
Why Watch Decision to Leave? (*Spoiler Alert)
The Tragedy of the Star-Crossed Lovers
Although Decision to Leave is a romance film, the two main characters never reciprocate their feelings for each other. The film is divided into two parts: the first half, where Hae-joon first meets Seo-rae in Busan, and the second half, in which Hae-joon transfers to Ipo and meets with Seo-rae again. During the first half, Hae-joon closes Ki Do-soo’s case as suicide instead of murder, primarily due to his attraction toward Seo-rae. However, he later stumbles across evidence proving Seo-rae to have been the murderer. That same night, Hae-joon orders Seo-rae to destroy the evidence, along with words that reveal his injured pride as a detective: “I am completely shattered.” Initially, it is implied that Seo-rae had no feelings for Hae-joon, simply having manipulated the detective so that he would stop suspecting her. After Hae-joon leaves, Seo-rae looks up the definition of “shattered” and realizes that Hae-joon had genuinely loved her. Therefore, at the start of the film’s second half, Seo-rae moves to Ipo in search of Hae-joon. Hence, the first half portrays Hae-joon’s love for Seo-rae, and the second half portrays Seo-rae’s love for Hae-joon. Their unfortunate relationship is once again emphasized by Seo-rae’s line, “The moment you said you loved me, your love ended, and the moment your love ended, my love began.”
|Song Seo-rae (cine21.com)|
The Truth Left Unseen
An essential theme of the film is perceiving truth. The film achieves this through the use of various filming techniques. During the first half of the film, when Hae-joon secretly follows Seo-rae as part of the investigation, the camera captures Seo-rae from Hae-joon’s viewpoint. As Hae-joon observes Seo-rae through his binoculars, the camera also films Seo-rae through a telescope so the audience can follow Seo-rae from Hae-joon’s perspective. Meanwhile, throughout the course of the film, Hae-joon is continuously depicted as a detective who yearns to see only the truth, without bias. However, Hae-joon never actually sees the truth: this signifies not only Hae-joon’s failure as a detective but also his failure to reach the truth during the film’s last scene. Towards the end of the film, Seo-rae, in a phone call with Hae-joon, claims that Hae-joon had confessed his love for her the night he told her to destroy the evidence of her murder. Hae-joon, who has no memory of such a confession, is puzzled and frustrated by her words. At Hae-joon’s response, Seo-rae hangs up and slowly walks towards the seashore. She then digs a pit in the sand and climbs in: she has made a “decision to leave” Hae-joon. Hae-joon soon arrives at the beach and frantically searches for Seo-rae, but he is too late; the tide has come in, and the pit has already been filled with sand and seawater. At this point, Hae-joon listens to the recording Seo-rae had sent to him of that night (titled “destroyed and broken,” the definition for “shattered”) and finally understands Seo-rae’s words, as well as his true feelings for her. Ironically, in this scene, Hae-joon is no more than a few feet away from where Seo-rae is buried, and his actions are filmed in a low-angle shot as if Seo-rae is watching Hae-joon, much like the first part of the film.
|Jang Hae-joon (theguardian.com)|
The Meaning behind the Jilgok-dong Case
The main focus of the film’s first half is on Ki Do-soo’s death, but there is also an underlying case that Hae-joon has been working on: the “Jilgok-dong case.” The case may seem like an irrelevant subplot, but it subtly foreshadows the film’s ending. Before Hae-joon takes on Seo-rae’s case, it is mentioned that he has been working on this case for the past few years but has yet to catch the culprit, who has fled after murdering a man three years ago. After arresting one of the suspects, Hae-joon discovers that the murderer is Hong San-oh. According to San-oh’s accomplice, however, San-oh apparently loathes prison and would instead “commit suicide after killing a couple of policemen rather than go to prison.” As Hae-joon struggles to solve the case and apprehend San-oh, Seo-rae offers help. She suggests that perhaps San-oh had murdered the victim because of a woman, named Oh Ga-in, he loved and valued more than his life. As soon as he hears these words, Hae-joon runs to Ga-in’s apartment to arrest him – but San-oh flees, having noticed the police coming. He is nearly captured by Hae-joon on the roof of a building but jumps off to commit suicide. San-oh’s character is very similar to Seo-rae – both commit murder repeatedly because of love and end up taking their own lives.
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