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Decision to Leave (2022)
The closer you look, the harder you fall.
Filmmaker(s): Park Chan-wook

From a mountain peak in South Korea, a man plummets to his death. Did he jump, or was he pushed? When detective Hae-joon arrives on the scene, he begins to suspect the dead man’s wife Seo-rae. But as he digs deeper into the investigation, he finds himself trapped in a web of deception and desire.

Decision to Leave (2022)

The Mist of Midst

One of my ‘Fours’ is ‘In the Mood for Love’. I will have this film join that group as well, and for much the same reason. Passion is more likely to be internally held than spilled about. It is more likely to seem accidental and inscrutable to outsiders. It will have little to do with sex, and be more hypnotising and permanent than anything that thrills.

As with the general form of detective noir, we reflexively want to follow the man, the detective, as he discovers this woman, the event that brought them together, and her ‘mist’ — a hypnotic charm that claims his soul.

This is a man with a clear obsession to ‘know’, to logically understand what has happened. When he cannot, he obsesses. He does not need to master the world he traverses, but he does need to understand it. His unsolved cases haunt him and prevent sleep, which makes him vulnerable. He blurs perceptions which are rendered cinematically for us, so that the filmmaker’s engineered ambiguities, his countered associations, and our confusion merge.

As I am not Korean, I don’t get the added weight of this woman’s Chinese bearing, but it would surely matter to a native audience.

His story is what we want to see, and we dutifully follow his path into obsessive passion, an obsession that is different, deep, emerging from his soul unfettered from logic or sex. It emerges and grows slowly, carrying us as it goes. We discover it with him.

Is she manipulating him, or at least taking advantage of what she recognises before he does? That’s the novel element here. She has indeed worked to confuse his unravelling of the murder of two husbands. One she did murder, the other she did not, but inserted her own agency both in cause and discovery.

Set the actual murders aside, and what actually happened. That’s irrelevant. What matters is that she has her own journey into an obsessive love, an all-encompassing, inescapable passion. The filmmaker assumes we recognise it and will carry this reminder in our own eating. It may change you, dear reader, by reminding how magical you are — and helpless as well. May we all find and live in this mist of passion.

Of course it is noir, now extended.

This filmmaker starts with human urges and mystery, and then goes to cinematic vision and filmic devices, and only then manages the characters and what we follow. It is a brilliant thing to give us, and reminds of our sequestered urges, the steam we generate around the soulmate we bath in.

An interesting cinematic device, here used more effectively than elsewhere, is the use of smart watches and phones. In a period piece they would have been diaries and letters, written expressions of knowledge, discovery, doubt. They are used wonderfully here as ‘evidence’, something that in other detective noir would be incidental. Here it is central, recovered from the deep.

I should probably put a warning when I recommend a four. If you are truly in the world, and sometimes film can help you invent yourself — as art does —, and you seek to know yourself, these can be dangerous touchstones.

Posted in 2024

Ted’s Evaluation — 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.


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