Park Chan-wook is the master of complicated. The Korean master behind “Oldboy” and “The Handmaiden” will be coolly strolling through another of his immaculately intricate labyrinths, pausing very occasionally — with perhaps the slightest hint of irritation — to make sure the laggards in the back can keep up, far beyond the point that Theseus himself would have given up and turned to a pile of desiccated bones in some dead-end nook.
The procedure ought to be frustrating, but as his latest Cannes competition entry demonstrates, it’s almost wonderful how his trail of tasteful, glittering hints leads us out and back into the light.
Your next, supremely accomplished Korean thriller obsession is here, and it is Park Chan-“Decision to Leave,” following the global triumph of Bong Joon-“Parasite” ho’s and the dominance of “Squid Game” on tiny screens.
Hae-Joon (Park Hae-il), an expert police detective, expertly combines the classic noir tropes of lovelorn patsy and relentless gumshoe. He is an attractive, well-respected officer who was the youngest officer to ever become an inspector in Busan. He is happily married to a lovely, smart wife (Lee Jung-Hyun).
They do not, however, live together because she commutes several hours to work in the smaller beach town of Ipo, while Hae-Joon, who works for the homicide squad, needs the vice of the large city to survive. Despite this, Hae-Joon complains that there aren’t enough murders for them to work on in their first conversation with his lanky, callow younger partner (Go Kyung-Pyo, who is the focus of numerous hilarious backgrounds jokes).
So Hae-Joon is given the case when a man’s body is discovered at the foot of a local mountain. Thus, he encounters the man’s stunning, mysterious wife Seo-Rae (a captivating, chameleon Tang Wei), a Chinese-speaking eldercare worker whose apparent lack of concern at recent widowhood piques Hae-interest.
Jon’s Because it’s the only time the insomniac investigator can get a good night’s sleep, he gets to know her and keeps watching her apartment at night even after her alibi has convinced him that she’s innocent. Curiosity erupts into an oddly polite kind of infatuation where every familiarity barrier broken is implicitly tolerated and reciprocated.
Although there isn’t a single sex scene and Hae-Joon and Seo-rae barely make eye contact, “Decision to Leave” is fundamentally a love story and a very sensual one. The only physical contact they do make is when one of them rubs sweet-smelling lotion on the other’s calloused hands.
Instead, the two actors’ innately believable natural chemistry and the stunning choreography of some scenes, wherein their gestures and movements sync up as though their bodies have always known one another, evoke their soulmate-style bond, which is complicated, of course, when Seo-alibi rae’s turns out not to be as solid as it first appeared.
This harmony lasts the entire time, despite a change in setting (the action eventually shifts to Ipo) and Seo-rae’s husband and haircut. However, it is evident during their first genuine conversation, which takes place in a police interrogation room, when they silently clean the table after receiving a delivery of pricey, high-end sushi (much to the chagrin of Hae-partner), Jon’s with the practiced efficiency of a long-married couple who have done it countless times.
It is by no means the only instance when the way a situation is staged conveys more significance than the actual words that are said. Since Kim Ji-Yong was also the director of photography for Kim Jee-magnificent woon’s period spy film “The Age of Shadows,” it should come as no surprise that his work is excellent: The usage of possibly the only two fresh perspectives on that cliched location keeps a conversation in a stairwell aesthetically interesting.
A car parked on a roadway along a beach, with the ocean on one side and sand on the other, and almost insultingly cool use of reflections are among the magnificent overheads (torches searching a woodland at night) and slicing symmetries.
Characters appear layered on top of one another on TV screens and windows even though they are in different locations, which creates an oddly gently surreal flourish when Hae-Joon, who will be observing Seo-rae from a distance, actually enters the room behind her.
And some montages give a delirium of images that would be the main conclusion of any other movie, but here is just a debonair interlude, accompanied by a woodwind soundtrack (by Cho Young-wuk) replete with romance and mystery.
Even when confronted with the venerable challenge of providing background information while maintaining audience interest, Park is in an innovative form. A brief explanation is interspersed with a completely unrelated but exciting rooftop footrace.
possibly not entirely unrelated: The story culminates in an extremely unique confrontation when Hae-Joon and his prey have a brief conversation about what men would do, including what morals they will compromise and what peace of mind they will give up, for love.
Though “Decision to Leave” has certain similarities to Park’s dark, baroque period epic “The Handmaiden,”, especially in terms of its eerily alluring female heroine, it is also startlingly contemporary.
Technology like smartphones (and smartwatches) immediately plays a key role in the plot, and not only in a practical, information-conveying way. Given the well-documented challenges that the internet poses to both mystery writers and directors looking for a pretty visual—90% of Agatha Christie plots today could be solved on page one of a Google search—ability Park to embrace technology’s formal and thematic cinematic potential is little short of revelatory.
The suggestion that the deathlessness of modern tech life has fundamentally altered the way we connect, the way we remember, and the way we experience love and loss is a small kernel of profundity, from the agonizing delays in a text-message conversation to the role that audio and video recordings play in the emotional corkscrew of Park and Cheung Seokyung’s screenplay.
Human perception is prone to error: Seo-outfit rae’s is either green or blue. Does she really love him, or is she just a very skilled sociopathic mimic? Human emotions can alter. Memory is brittle, and ideas and intentions cannot be understood outside the locked box of your own heart.
This is in contrast to the lossless clarity and limitless replayability of a recording, which can thus be recovered even from a phone tossed into the sea. However, even though a lover’s heart is unreliable, it is also the only thing that matters, as this sparkling piece of genre art’s unexpected, sorrowful, yet wonderfully rewarding climax demonstrates.