Saturday 12 November 2022

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison dives into Park Chan-wook's DECISION TO LEAVE (South Korea, 2022)

Park Chan-wook

The current wave of Korean film interest (SquidGame streamed, Parasite/Gisaengchung’s Oscar) has rolled on with Park Chan-wook’s (South) Korean Heojil kyolshim/Decision to Leave making it into the local multiplex,  where a wide range of English-speaking material has dipped out.

Tang Wei, Decision to Leave

This one answers the question of whether Tang Wei can act with her clothes on. She’s actually between quite busy since Lust Caution upset the Mainland authorities, with credits including voicing a SpongeBob SquarePants episode and she’s an imposing presence as this new film’s femme fatale.

Decision to Leave  is another entry in Park Chan-wook’s erratic filmography - Joint Security Area, the Vengeance Films, Old Boy or his Therese Raquin with vampires Bakjwi/Thirst  of  2009. The plot has leading man Park Hae-il (Memories of Murder, The Host) as an insomniac cop involved in a weekend marriage with wife Lee Jung-hyun. They live in foggy remote Ipoh but he works in urban Busan. 

A businessman has fallen off a rock face while climbing and suspicion has fallen on his Chinese wife Tang Wei, an Aged Care nurse noted for her gentleness with granny patients. The investigation is complicated by her self-consciousness about speaking Korean and resorting to cell ‘phone translation during conversations, where the film doesn’t sub-title her Chinese language dialogue. Filming in Busan police HQ with its screens and reflecting surfaces is particularly striking. 

Park Hae-il, Decision to Leave

However, the most distinctive feature of Decision to Leave is its playing about with the senses, offering disturbing concepts and images. Remember Old Boy stuffing a live squid into his mouth.

This is set up by discovering the corpse with a close-up of the ant crawling on its dead eye. We actually had that last week in Night of the 12. It would be interesting to know whether one was a copy or whether both films picked up a concept that’s circulating in the way that we’ve just had a wave of movie ass wipings after Benedetta.

The device peaks in the scene where the lead prepares a meal for his suspect while discussing the order in which insects attack a dead body, with off-putting crime scene insets. The decline of trust between the leads is indicated by the gourmet Bento boxes he used to supply her during interrogations (his partner was jealous) being replaced by a Pluto Pup battered frankfurter with ketchup in cardboard. Then there are the soft-shelled turtles.

The film’s plot plunders Vertigo, Double Indemnity, Body Heat and The Postman Always Rings Twice. The sometimes misleading assumptions set up when the audience recognises those are part of the dynamic. Restaging the dash to the crime is better here than it was in Lelouche’s 1975 Le chat et la souris, with the two mountain climbs intercut stylishly. We get ambiguity amok. All the overseas critics lost track of the switched cell phones. Decision to Leave works off our fluctuating assessment of the Tang Wei character and backs its style and narrative with superior craftsmanship. 

Even while the audience aren’t sure what is happening, the film keeps them hanging. It’s only after two and a quarter hours, when things are explained while waves break on the beach,  that conviction wanes. Till then it’s been the full suspense movie trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.