A detective falls in love with a beautiful murder suspect. But that is just the beginning of the “deciding to leave” experience. In the hands of South Korean master Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”, “The Handmaiden”), this familiar noir premise is but the outermost layer of a cinematic onion – a sweet onion that nonetheless contains sulphur. Using the tools of filmmaking with the precision of a surgeon and the discovery of a sculptor, Park reveals that the film’s most compelling mystery involves love, not murder.
In the second half of his two-part film, “the investigation no longer counts. The biggest mystery is, “Why is she here in this city with nothing to see but fog?” Why did she come where [the detective] lives?’ This turns it into a love story,” says the director.
Indeed, the most important questions – still associated with a crime novel – are not only whether she loves him, but whether he loves her.
“What’s interesting is that he doesn’t know the answer himself,” says Park, until a revelation in the year’s most haunting closing sequence.
If a film defined by genre elements might come as a surprise (for a while) to a filmmaker as idiosyncratic as Park, it’s actually a long time coming. As a high school student he became a fan of Martin Beck’s Swedish crime novels – the source of the American film The Laughing Policeman starring Walter Matthau – and as a result has had an interest in making detective thrillers for decades. When the entire book series was translated into Korean a few years ago, he read it again to get to know the character “from the start,” he says through an interpreter.
“I’ve piqued my interest in a detective character that doesn’t rely on violence, but rather focuses on action. He’s polite and he’s nice. He is a civil servant.”
Meanwhile, a 1967 Korean classic song, the enticing “Crap,” inspired him to “make an adult romance film. At a certain point I thought, “What if I combined these two separate ideas? What if Martin Beck falls in love with his suspect?’”
Park decided to make a film that would have all the trappings of noir, a full story, in its first half – and then take viewers beyond that, floating, into a second half where the mystery transcends the solving of a crime and descends into an obsessive, irresistible attraction.
“If the story ended with part 1, you could call this movie [nothing more than] a noir. Not to say it got that bad. But even if the story ended at part 1, I don’t think I would have made this film,” he says.
Combining genres wouldn’t work without compelling performances, of course, and Park takes it from Park Hae-il (whom he’s dubbed his country’s Jimmy Stewart) as a detective of no small fame and Tang Wei (unforgettable in Ang Lees). “Lust, Caution”) as the bewitching Chinese nationalist murder suspect Seo-rae. But don’t look for the outbursts of sex and violence beneath delightfully controlled surfaces that have characterized some of Park’s best-known works; In comparison, “Decision to Leave” is downright chaste.
“The goal was to make a love story that doesn’t say the words ‘I love you.’ I wanted to make the audience more curious and impatient with their relationship,” he says.
Park and frequent co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong incorporated a number of devices to illustrate how truth can be guessed even though it appears to be shifting and obscuring. The town to which the detective retreats in the second half is famous for its persistent fog, and there is a recurring motif of blue and green, and how confusing they can even switch places. A scene with a blue palette gives way to a green one, and vice versa. There’s even a dress that the detective says appears blue one moment and green the next.
“We started with these two worlds: the mountains and the ocean. There is a line about people who like mountains and people who prefer the sea. The storyline is structured to start in the mountains and end in the ocean,” says Park. “The wallpaper in her apartment looks like a wide mountain range when you think of it as mountains. But if you think they are oceans, they look like little waves. The question of this natural environment is a very important motif that is associated with the colors green and blue.
The proximity of blue and green on the color wheel and their blending reflect the film’s questions of truth or lies and love or utility.
“All of this has to do with Seo-rae and how real her feelings are. It really depends how you look at it. Added to this is the fog, which makes everything confusing and difficult to see. They are all connected.
“Even the dress – we actually did three different versions; We have a bluer one and a greener one, and depending on the situation we used these different versions. The audience themselves might be like, ‘Oh, I remember it was blue, but now it looks green.’”
Amidst this calculated confusion, Park employs his trademark tactile filmmaking to convey warmth, cold, texture and even the richness of food for a sensory experience. Moments of truth are captured as characters are captured in surveillance videos and apps; They use translators and voice notes that sometimes reveal feelings they don’t want to admit directly.
“Both of our protagonists refuse to express their feelings very clearly,” he says. The recording devices, like diaries, can be described as “the ears that listen to their honest feelings. As for the translation app, [it’s for] if you really want to tell someone something quickly.
“It’s not just cold-blooded technology, it’s an extension of one’s own body. It is the box that hides its truth. I enjoy how the use of modern technology collided with the classicism of the romantic elegance I was aiming for.”
Park’s films are so meticulously constructed, the frames so beautifully composed, and the camera movements so precise, that there’s a sort of coolness to them even when what’s happening is absolutely insane (as in “Oldboy”). But he never forgets the humanity of his subjects. Even in a noir that forces the viewer to look closely for clues, he finds the right beats to insert humor.
“I’m not a very funny person on a day-to-day basis,” he says, and he and his interpreter both laugh, “that’s why I always look for opportunities to make the audience laugh. I think if the work is too serious all the time, it’ll come across as trying to look cooler than I’m trying to be, a little more interesting and serious than I’m supposed to be, and trying to come across as any artist. ‘ They laugh again.
“I also think it’s a more inclusive way of showing someone’s life.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-11-28/park-chan-wook-plumbs-the-ultimate-mystery-in-decision-to-leave Love is more mysterious than murder in ‘Decision to Leave’