Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Conundrum of Innocence and Love

Park Chan-wook is back with Decision to Leave after directing masterpieces like Oldboy and The Handmaiden. The film follows the slow but extraordinary romance between Seo-rae and Hae-joon. Most of Park’s films never explain the true antagonist or protagonist and victim or villain. Through every forbidden step and every confusing turn in the game of seduction between partners, he leaves us with a highly ambiguous conundrum of truth, innocence, and love.

On the other hand, one of the many joys of the film fever is that Park revels in making a film like Decision to Leave. Though its ardent admirers will always wonder if it’s impossible to handle such a tricky thing, it’s an unbearable love story. It plays as an intoxicating baroque mystery and becomes an absorption of the kind of old romantic fatalism that makes any dark heart flutter. In the film, Park presents a romantic thriller that is very difficult for us to understand.

The story tells about detective Hae-joon. He is investigating a case of a dead climber. After meeting the enigmatic climber’s wife, Seo-rae, Park displays a tight pacing of Tang Wei and Park Hae-il’s fierce looks. It keeps us guessing at every opportunity.

Emotional Contours

Decision to Leave can get us lost. Unlocking the secrets, sifting through the clues, to navigating mystery puzzles becomes an absorbing thing in the film. While the audience finds an auxiliary road, Park will always guide the audience back to the track. We keep wondering if the film is too messed up. Does the film have any plot connection with the mystery woman? A detective could have left us ambiguous by continuing to beat his colleague with an electric massager.

However, Park does a fine job of slowly revealing his character’s emotional contours. With every pull of the curtain back an inch at a time, Hae-joon and Seo-rae are some of the most extraordinary individuals on screen in 2022, not just in Korean cinema. We cannot penetrate all at once; while it is terrible, it is memorable simultaneously. The film traverses absurd territory in many ways.

From playing with the unusual deaths’ mystery of climbers and their love for each other, Park immerses the audience in the film suddenly. It makes the audience feel guilty if they have missed the first fifteen minutes. The series of scenes that Park mustered quickly continued to pass.

The Bullets

With the bullets filling the score, Decision to Leave jumps off the two detectives. They are shooting at the indoor shooting range. They chatted, worked on cases, and talked some more. With an unstable jump cut, the exciting opening immediately turns the controlled frenzy into a blanket discussion of the fog of insomnia. Weird turns to narrative ellipses create inviting ambiguity.

However, it will remain unclear for the specific time because it is unclear what happened. Seo-rae is an illegal immigrant from China. In the 1930s, it reveals that her grandfather received official honors as a Korean patriot and served as a soldier in Korea against the Japanese. In such a case, those fluent in Korean will likely find greater depth and richness in the film. Through the script’s clever wordplay, Seo-rae’s strong language adds another layer of uncertainty to her tug-of-war with Hae-joon.

Our suspicions about her are insignificant. It could be that because of language and because there is something scarier beneath the surface. With the first flash of the main story, there is the materialization of a corpse. While hiking, a man dies under suspicious circumstances. He leaves Seo-rae, and the watch breaks.

Web of Distrust

On the other hand, Soo-wan, the more suspicious, notes that she isn’t too upset by her husband’s death harshly. The primary investigator, Hae-joon, has trouble sleeping. He is instantly attracted to her. He replied that neither did his wife. While commenting about a man was more complicated than we have seen, a close-up shot of ants crawling over the eyes of a dead climber opens up the film’s early moments.

It destroys further and shows the ant’s impaired vision in a decay attraction. Park’s similar obsession with parallelism and ideological eye between ontology and the cinema’s vision has become a trademark for his films. Therefore, it is only fitting that the eyes emerge as the film’s motif amidst a web of suspicion, scrutiny, and distrust. It envelops the romance so veiled that the characters can no longer decipher death.

With such an obsession with human drives and desires, his films are always about watching other people, hiding reality, searching for the truth, fear in solving puzzles, and curiosity. In Decision to Leave, Hae-joon puts Seo-rae under surveillance. Not long after that, he fell in love with her, a Hollywood film-noir detective style in the past.


Hae-joon is always watching and following her, tracking her every move. Whether she was at work or home with her cat, at such moments, he imagined himself in her apartment. He was close to her kissing distance nearly. When he slept while sitting on the sofa, his eyes closed when a stick of burning ash fell from his cigarette. In addition, he imagined himself holding an ashtray under a burning tip.

Decision to Leave asks how we construct the truth from what we see and the nature of the vision. At one point, Hae-joon was battling insomnia; it left him very dry. He falls asleep when doing reconnaissance. Besides struggling to see clearly, there are lots of shots where he uses eye drops. There is a subversive accusation against authorities and institutions, making and seeking the truth to consider his work as a detective.

Cues will turn to ashes and smolder the next day. However, a dying cigarette doesn’t just become a cigarette. Quickly, Hae-joon’s investigation turns into an obsession and fascination that cloud and changes his life. His attention is always on Seo-rae whom we read as a sweet interest or stalker. Hae-joon insinuates himself into Seo-rae’s life under the guise of his detective work.


They share food and rooms. In addition, they go for a walk when it rains. Even so, Hae-joon still doesn’t believe Seo-rae, grows closer, and loves her. At first, Hae-joon has already decided who he is. It put him in a box, another literacy of Park’s ideas at one point unusually. The eyes represent openness on the surface, giving sentient beings the ability to judge others. However, Park points out that the orb is equally capable of deception through its abilities to control and manipulate.

Fundamentally, the film becomes a classic detective story where the protagonist’s desire drives Seo-rae to find out who did it and why. Indirectly, Park maximizes his adventurous fun or convoluted with plasticity. He likes to play with time and space, even obscuring current times and the past. Inventively too, he uses flashback fantasy sequences to deepen the mystery. It is useful in disrupting its flow and attracting attention or the effect is dizzying but dazzling.

At the film’s end, it becomes a critical self-reflection where cinema manners involve a twofold aspect of the eye and the truth. It could be, we will be overwhelmed with questions. Therefore, Park references Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as a sublime insight about a detective who falls in love with a woman.

Representative of Park’s Films

According to Park, it was lost only to be found and lost again. On the other hand, he spreads playful nods to Hitchcock’s picture as well. From sinister close-up eyes to rooftop chases, to gnarled trees jutting out over cliffs, the protagonist periodically spends considerable time looking at the woman he loves. The camera always averts its gaze, recording Seo-rae and Hae-joon in the interrogation room or when Seo-rae is brushing her teeth alone.

Indeed, Decision to Leave is the purity of Park along with Oldboy and The Handmaiden. Constantly, temperament, style, and form became representative of Park’s films. From the first destabilizing moment, he captivates the audience with his beautiful pictures. The intoxicating courage of his unbridled imagination makes the audience think they have found their way. He once again unleashed us, crushed us, and blew us up.

Finally, he offers a cinematic puzzle about the isolation of modern life with the spices of detective story mystery and immigrant tension. Everything smacks by the edges but we could argue that it’s hardly relevant at all. The film makes us question everything because it’s the incredible journey that Park took. It is the film’s journey into territory that we morally question if there are any faults we can find in the film.


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