Decision to Leave

South Korea 2022, 138 mins
Director: Park Chan-wook

Decision to Leave begins with the detective Hae-joon investigating the death of a man who fell from a mountaintop. When he meets the deceased man’s wife Seo-rae, he starts to suspect her at the same time that he begins feeling an attraction to her. Amidst the rising tension of the crime investigation, the film delicately captures the emotions of two characters who feel a special curiosity and unexpected affinity for each other, providing an intriguing mix of suspense and romance. In particular, the unreadable words and actions by Seo-rae make her tantalisingly hard to read, not only for Hae-joon but for the viewer as well, raising dramatic tension.

As the location of the story shifts from the mountain to the sea, as their developing relationship is torn between suspicion and attraction, and as the investigation slowly reveals more details about the past, the complex, subtle emotions that tie these two characters together will leave an unforgettable impression on viewers. With its genre mix of police procedural and romance, its intriguing characters, its moments of unexpected humour, the sensual mise-en-scène and powerful direction of Park Chan-wook, Decision to Leave is at once the most classic and most original film of 2022.

Park Chan-wook on ‘Decision to Leave’

What was the process of developing Decision to Leave ?

It started from a conversation in London with screenwriter Jung Seo-kyoung, who I’ve collaborated with on many films. Before that, there were two bits of source material in my mind. The first is a Korean song ‘The Mist’ composed by Lee Bongjo, which I have loved since I was young, and which I only knew as a recording by Ms Chung Hoon-hee. But later I found out that Twin Folio had also recorded that song, and after listening to it, I fell in love with it. And I thought to myself, how about making a film with the voice of Chung Hoon-hee, as well as another version of the song with the voice of Song Chang-sik? Naturally, I thought that it should be a romance film set in a misty town. Second, I wanted to make a film featuring a detective character with a personality that I like, similar to my favourite police character Martin Beck from the Swedish detective novel series. I wanted to see a detective who was gentle, quiet, clean, polite and kind. The two stories merged into one through a conversation with screenwriter Jung Seo-kyoung, and gradually took shape.

What is the meaning of the title Decision to Leave ?

When they say, ‘I don’t think things will work out between us’, they decide to break up. But when they express their intention in this resolute way, from an outside perspective it doesn’t feel very convincing. They may want and agree to separate, but given that deep inside their hearts they don’t really want to part, it’s a title that suggests they won’t be able to leave each other.

As you were directing this film, what were the new elements you considered?

If my previous films were intense, made with the goal of providing a very stimulating experience, Decision to Leave is a film that subtly and imperceptibly pulls the audience in and captures their interest. So there’s not much violence, nudity or sexual content. However, I wanted to depict these complicated emotions that any human, and any adult, can empathise with.

What were the reasons behind the casting of Tang Wei and Park Hae-il?

Jung Seo-kyoung said it would be good if the female lead was Chinese, so that we might be able to cast Tang Wei. Sure enough, I’ve wanted to work with her ever since watching Lust, Caution, and more than anything, we thought she would be convincing as the character that Jung Seo-kyoung and I wanted to create. And I thought that Tang Wei and Park Hae-il would make for a fascinating combination.

I’ve known Park Hae-il for so long that it seemed as if I must have shot one or two films with him. But I realised one day that I had never made a film with him. In the film, Hae-joon is exceptionally gentle, neat and polite and has eccentric humour. No other actor but Park Hae-il came to mind for that character. In that sense the script was almost custom tailored to him, and although the ‘Hae’ in ‘Hae-joon’ represents the sea, it also brings to mind Park Hae-il.

What kind of people are Seo-rae and Hae-joon to each other?

To Seo-rae, who has always thought of herself as being unhappy, Hae-joon is like a precious gift. She must have been taken with surprise to think, ‘Someone like him really does care for me.’ For Hae-joon, Seo-rae is like the waves on the sea. Sometimes she is calm, sometimes violent, sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes she wraps you in her embrace, but it’s always changeable.

What do you hope viewers will take away from Decision to Leave ?

Decision to Leave is a story for adults. It’s a love story, and also a detective drama. But what I really want to emphasise is that it’s a story about loss, that any adults will be able to relate to. Rather than treat it as a solid tragedy, I tried to express it with subtlety, elegance and humour.

Production notes

Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Production Company: Moho Film
Presented by: CJ EN M Co. Ltd, CJ Entertainment
Executive Producer: Miky Lee
Co-executive Producer: Kang Ho-sung
Producer: Baek Ji-sun
Co-producer: Ko Dae-seok
Financing Executive: Si Yeon-jae
Screenplay: Park Chan-wook, Jung Seo-kyoung
Director of Photography: Kim Ji-yong
Gaffer: Shin Sang-yeul
Visual Effects Supervisor: Lee Jeon-hyeong
Visual Effects: 4th Creative Party
Editor: Kim Sang-beom
Production Designer: Ryu Sung-hee
Costume Designer: Kwak Jung-ae
Make-up & Hair Designer: Song Jong-hee
Music: Jo Yeong-uk
Sound Supervisor: Kim Suk-won
Production Sound Mixer: Jung Gun

Park Hae-il (Jang Hae-joon)
Tang Wei (Song Seo-rae)
Lee Jung-hyun (Jung-an)
Park Yong-woo (Ho-shin)
Ko Gyung-pyo (Soo-wan)
Kim Shin-young (Yeon-soo)
Yoo Seung-mok (Ki Do-soo)
Park Jung-min (Hang San-oh)
Seo Hyun-woo (Chul-sung)
Lee Hak-joo (Lee Ji-goo)
Yoo Teo (Lee, manager)
Jung Young-sook (Monday grandmother)
Jung Yi-seo (Mi-ji)
Hwang Jae-woo (Jang Ha-joo)

South Korea 2022
138 mins

A MUBI release

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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