Fresh from its success at the Cannes Film Festival where it won Best Director, Decision to Leave marks the first time a film by Park Chan-wook — long believed to be one of South Korea’s finest contemporary filmmakers — has represented his country at the Oscars. A friendly rivalry with Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, who won in 2019 with the first Korean film ever to be nominated, only heightens the anticipation for its chances.
Starring Park Hae-il as Detective Jang Hae-jun and Tang Wei as the mysterious widow Song Seo-rae, Decision to Leave is a slow-burn thriller that repays repeated viewing. Speaking during a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event, Park laid out the film’s premise.
“This is a story about a detective,” he said, “and he is in charge of a case in which a man has fallen from a mountain and died, and his wife is his primary suspect. The detective meets her, and at first he is suspicious, but suspicion turns into curiosity, and curiosity turns into affection. He constantly has to ask himself: could she have committed the crime? And is he in love with her? This is how the relationship progresses—and this relationship meets a drastic ending.”
Park cited Scandi-noir as an influence. “It’s [firmly] in the detective genre,” he said, “in that there is a mystery and there is a character who has the capacity to solve that mystery. I believe our lives are, likewise filled with mysteries, but in our own lives there’s no guarantee that these mysteries will be resolved. So seeing a detective who has the capacity to solve such mysteries gives us hope.”
Fanning the mystery here is China’s Tang Wei, a big star in Korea since her performance in 2010’s Late Autumn. “[Her character] initially appears as a very mysterious person,” explained Park. “She does not reveal her true self to the audience, and so she comes off as the traditional femme fatale type from other genre films. But as we get to know her better, we realize she is different. You could can say that the part one of the film is told from the perspective of the man, and the female character is simply an object of his gaze. However, in part two, we are no longer in anyone’s particular gaze, and the woman is no longer a femme fatale but a protagonist of her own love story.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.