click to enlarge

Photo: Courtesy of MUBI

The decision to leave

New movie directed by Park Chan-wook The decision to leave starts with a bang – literally. Detectives Hae Joon and Soo Wan fill in the outline of the body with bullet holes at the firing range, conversation. Times are tough at the Busan Police Department — there aren’t enough homicide cases these days, two detectives lament. When a climber is found dead at the base of a mountain with a cracked watch confirming the time of his death, Hae Joon’s interest is piqued. But it’s not a closed case, and over the next two and a half hours, Jang-wook sends his dogged detective to bring the plot to its absurd, stunning conclusion.

Audiences may not expect this Hitchcock-infused detective story to be produced by Jang Wook, a South Korean director whose early revenge looks like Oldboy and Sympathy to the city of Mstiva many critics relegated it to the nebulous classification of “extreme Asian cinema.” The decision to leave may pack gore and octopus mukbang, but it’s as assuredly a creep as Jang Wook’s bloodiest work. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone else who can bring this level of visual enthusiasm to a boots-on-the-ground police story, mix it with romance with a big heart, and still keep it relevant.

While investigating the death of a mountaineer, Hae Joon, played by the utterly brooding Park Hae Il, questions the climber’s wife So Rae (Tang Wei). He is concerned about how indifferent she is, but is too charmed to suspect her. Wei is the perfect conversation piece as the stoic So-Rae, drawing us into her mysteries with a subtle wink beneath each line. Like all great femmes fatales, she can capture the married Hae Joon with a single look, a seduction he doesn’t get from his wife, with whom he has a “weekend marriage” across town. Later in the film, Hae Joong will tell Seo Rae that from the beginning, “I knew we were of the same breed.”

For Jang Wook, manipulation and love are two sides of the same coin. The decision to leave risks getting lost in its twists and turns as the detective and his suspect become increasingly intertwined, but Jang Wook’s visuals remain clear even as the plot grows dim. The editing is quick and unexpected: During the interrogation scenes, editor Sang Beom Kim cuts across Hae Joon and Seo Rae’s faces on different camera monitors and through glass reflections.

Jang Wook has been a fan of digital cinema in recent years – in February he did Life is just a dreama short film shot entirely on the iPhone 13 and released in 2011 Night fishing was shot on an iPhone 4. But The decision to leave it’s his most tech-obsessed film yet. Characters use Siri for comedic effect, Seo Rae translates Chinese on her phone when her Korean fails, and a suspicious iPhone pedometer plays a key role in a murder case.

The film continues headlong through a maze of mysterious and inexplicable subplots, such as a heist involving a soft turtle shell that leaves our detective with a bitten finger. All the while, Hae Joon remains smitten with Seo Rae. Jang Wook said he’s not a big fan of film noir, but it’s hard not to read strong influences into Hae Joon’s insomniac nights spent watching Seo Rae. “It’s not that I can’t sleep because of the delays, I’m killing myself because I can’t sleep,” he tells his nervous young partner Soo Wan (Go Kyung Pyo).

When Hae-joon finally reaches So-rae, they don’t have sex; instead, she puts him to sleep because she knows he needs rest. Jang Wook is not a hypocrite (see: Maid), but he leaves erotica The decision to leave to the good times – shared lip balm on a rainy day and brief glimpses of sushi eaten in silence.

About halfway through the film, the plot doubles down on Hae Joon’s obsession in a way that might seem redundant. But The decision to leave it’s all about patterns, from Hae-joon and Seo-rae’s dueling notes to Jang-wook’s repeating close-up cues on the smartwatch. At the end of the film, the police procedural disappears into the breathless love story that was there from the beginning, but not in the way the audience might have expected.

Like other great noir characters, Hae Jung teeters on the knife edge of obsession and love. The decision to leave asks the question: is the thrill of love in meeting or leaving? Leave it to Jang Wook to answer that question with another question — does it matter in the end? Jang Wook may have left behind the gore and gore for this movie, but he can still pull out the knives when the need arises.

The decision to leave. Session times vary. Friday, October 28 – Thursday, November 10 Harris Theatre. Prospect Svoboda, 809, center. 11 dollars.