Decide to leave a review: Oldboy's Park Chan-wook is obsessed with obsession

Decide to leave a review: Oldboy’s Park Chan-wook is obsessed with obsession

If you were to ask a cinephile around 2006 what Park Chan-wook’s deal was as a filmmaker, the answer would have been simple: “He’s the Korean revenge movie guy.” Park’s “Revenge Trilogy” – The Unrelated But Simple Dark Thrillers Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, old boyand Lady Vengeance — crossed international borders in an era when it was rarer to see America field breakthrough hits from other countries than it is today. Twisty plotting, intense violence and stunning action scenes like old boyThe famous “hammer and a gang” fight helped put Park’s name on the map, but these three films (not his first, but his most famous at the time) also pigeonholed him as a director with very specific interests and tastes.

Park has been harder to pin down ever since. His 2009 horror film Thirst is a bleak vampire love story with more than a hint of sly comedy. Park .’s English-language debut stoker is an oddball in which Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman go head-to-head in a kind of lavish salon psychodrama that balances between horror story and historical piece. Park got into espionage action with The Little Drummer Girlromcoms with I’m a Cyborg, but that’s okayand literary historical crime drama with the maidservant. And his latest, the perfectly crafted Decide to leaveis both a police proceeding and a love story, the kind of film that drifts slightly from one genre to another, only landing fully in its final devastating moments.

Photo: MUBIA

Decide to leave does clarify a specific agenda for Park’s very diverse filmography: he is a man obsessed with an obsession. Time and again, his protagonists get a compulsive idea in their heads, only to pursue it stubbornly no matter what it costs them. And it often costs them everything. In old boyIt’s a man obsessed with finding out who locked him up in a makeshift cell for 15 years and then dumped him on the street without explanation. In Thirst, it’s a vampire bent on self-destruction. In his love stories, people become obsessed with each other in a way that pulls them off their previous tracks and onto new ones. And in decide to leave, it’s a man obsessed with solving a murder, even if it destroys him and the woman he loves.

From the start, the film presents police detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il, of Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder) as a man who does not fully know how to exist outside of work. He lives in the city during the week and visits his wife on the weekends for decent sex and subdued, friendly time together, but his mind always seems to be elsewhere, especially at night when insomnia grips him. It takes a while for Park and co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong to reveal exactly where his ghost is headed in the darkness.

When Hae-jun is summoned for what appears to be a case of accidental death, he encounters the dead man’s mild-mannered widow, Seo-rae (Lust, caution‘s Tang Wei). He carefully probes for the idea that she may have staged a particularly clever, well-thought-out murder. At the same time, he becomes gently obsessed with her. The two pursue a tentative, non-physical relationship — Park has said that one of his main inspirations for the 1945 film was David Lean’s melodrama Short meeting, about two married people who have an emotional affair that never gets a chance to go beyond kissing. In the process, however, Seo-rae begins to crawl under Hae-jun’s carefully crafted shield and expose the obsessions he reveals to no one else.

Decide to leave takes some huge narrative twists, but they never feel like the kind of surprise! Storyline! twists and turns! that make the audience gasp and try to catch up. It’s a slow burn movie, more like a Wong Kar-wai romance (In the mood for love often comes to mind in this film) than like Park’s early potboiler thrillers. At 138 minutes in length, the pace is for patient viewers who want to linger in the quiet spaces that grow between detective and suspect, pondering each new piece of evidence in the murder case as it emerges. It’s a particularly rich version of a whodunit, but it still follows form, with one clue building on another as Hae-jun’s suspicions coalesce.

Seo-rae (Tang Wei) looks through a car window in a parking lot in Decide to leave

Photo: MUBIA

Decide to leave eventually goes to the kind of shocking extremes that Park is known for, but first it draws in an audience who can enjoy meticulous handicrafts and elegant world-building. Early on, Hae-jun learns that Seo-rae is from China; when she meets new people, she apologizes for her “inadequate” Korean, although the subtitles never suggest that she speaks clumsily. But when she’s sure she wants to be understood, she speaks into a translator app on her phone and Hae-jun stares down as the device explains things to him in candid but poetic language. Seo-rae spends her free time looking after elderly women in their homes, which Hae-jun eventually does as he follows her tracks. That leads him to the classic Korean song ‘Mist’, which defines its relationship with seo-rae. The film returns time and again to the idea that Hae-jun has carefully tailored his clothes to add extra pockets, which are packed with everything a person needs – something that both his wife and Seo-rae use casually. to make of.

All these little grace notes feel like a distraction to the movie, until they come back often enough to become apparent as defining character traits, ways of understanding who these two people are. Both of them hide a lot from the world and from each other, including their feelings for each other. But Park and Jeong let their main lines reveal themselves through side details, making both characters sharp and sharp enough to translate what those details mean. Initial, Decide to leave may not seem like the kind of sultry fantasy romance that builds fandoms. But as these small angles of character gradually grow into a larger portrait, it becomes clear that it is a very different kind of fantasy, about people who care enough – and can see clearly enough – to fully understand each other, even if they rarely understand that understanding. to articulate. .

That’s not all Park is up to Decide to leave, which eventually unfolds a second murder mystery that complicates the protagonists’ romance again, before crashing to a stunning conclusion. But while the procedural story takes up quite a bit of screen time, the emotional story is the centerpiece of the film, and the story that is likely to stick with audiences the longest and most clearly. As a story, it lacks the verve and dynamism of his early action films. A portrait of obsession and regret, it is remarkably sophisticated and satisfying. Park still cares about obsession, anger and suppressed sadness – all things that kept him busy as a younger filmmaker. He just expresses those interests differently now, with soft conversations in memorable places, rather than the blunt point of a hammer.

Decide to leaveSouth Korea’s 2022 entry for the Academy Awards’ Best International Feature Film category opens in the Americas in limited theatrical release on October 14, with a wider rollout starting October 21.

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