Tag Archives: Park Chan-Wook

CINEMA REVIEW: DECISION TO LEAVE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: DECISION TO LEAVE (2022)

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Written by: Jeong Seo-kyeong, Park Chan-wook

Produced by: Park Chan-wook

Main cast: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, etc.

Cinematography Kim Ji-yong

Edited by Kim Sang-bum

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Park Chan-wook is a proper filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, he embraces the artifice of the visual and aural medium crafting intelligent, thematically surprising and stylistically dazzling works of cinema. While watching his work one can see the clockwork precision of his filmic mind devising every frame, sound, camera move, cut, character action, acting nuance, being thought out expertly. In short: Park Chan-wook’s films are always an event for me and demand attention.

Chan-wook’s only Hollywood directed film was an under-rated gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013), after which he returned home to direct erotically charged period thriller, The Handmaiden (2016). This was a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer affair, taking a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and interweaving an explicit feminist love story. Of course, lest we forget Chan-wook’s classic early work, notably the gonzo revenger, Old Boy (2003). I re-watched it recently at the Raindance Film Festival and the furiously inventive exploitation film retains its beautifully transgressive power.

Like The Handmaiden (2016), Decision to Leave (2022) is a romance story set within a complex genre plot. While the former was a period crime film, Decision to Leave (2022) is a contemporary set police procedural with a central premise highly reminiscent of Basic Instinct (1992). Tang Wei as Song Seo-rae is suspected of killing her husband and as investigating cop, Park Hae-il as Det. Jang Hae-jun, delves deeper he finds himself more and more attracted to her. Where The Handmaiden (2016) and Basic Instinct (1992) used nudity and sexual imagery liberally, Decision to Leave (2022) is far more subtle and cerebral. The compelling romance is built on two fine lead performances, the cunning twists in the crime plot and Chan-wook’s masterful visuals with mountain, coastal and city landscapes being employed to powerful impact.



Now I must admit after watching Decision to Leave (2022) I was left slightly underwhelmed at the end from an emotional perspective. The visuals and storytelling were phenomenal, with Chan-wook and his writing partner crafting a devious series of inventive cat-and-mouse set-pieces. The suspense and doubt instilled as to whether Song Seo-rae is a murderer, despite her cast-iron alibi, is palpable. Simultaneously, the arc of the married mid-life crisis-detective, drawn to the suspect, flirting with disaster through flawed choices, creates much tension also. However, I didn’t immediately warm to the detective’s persona and wasn’t sure if I really cared. But I suspect, due to the complexity of the passion on show, a further watch will cement Chan-wook’s specific and symbolic vision.

Beneath the melding of romance, crime, mystery and action genres, I also considered the potential subtext in the screenplay. I wondered if Decision to Leave (2022) sought to explore the socio-political relationship between the nations of South Korea and China via the characters? Song Seo-rae is a Chinese migrant who came to Korea and via marriage was able to remain. An enigmatic soul she uses her wiles to survive, serenely attracting a series of men. But death follows her as closely as the male. Detective Hae-jun is drawn to her both professionally and romantically, no doubt thrilled by the danger. Yet, Chan-wook denies displaying physical consummation, and this makes the film more erotic than endless sex scenes do.

Lastly, Decision to Leave’s (2022) examination of language, both bodily and verbal, is deftly presented as a theme within the romance. The central crime of murder creates suspicion between the Korean and Chinese characters, but there’s a mutual and irresistible pull that cannot be denied. Song Seo-rae’s use of her phone translation application during her exchanges with the Detective create both a barrier and paradoxical intimacy. It’s just one of the fascinating bits of business, as well as the chainmail gauntlet used by the Detective, which elevate an already impressive script. But did Decision to Leave (2022) need to be so evasively complex and full of radiant ambiguity? The ending especially is both poetically exquisite and frustratingly cryptic. With a Park Chan-wook film, would I have it any other way?

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

DIRECTOR:  Park Chan-Wook

WRITERS: Park Chan-Wook, Chung Seo-kyung (from the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters)

CAST:  Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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You may be too young to know or too old to remember but Channel 4 in the 1980s used to have an eclectic choice of arty independent and World Cinema films.  Now you get a few on Film Four but Channel 4 was a main outlet for interesting cinema not shown on the BBC or ITV channels. Channel 4 also used to, for a short period between 1986 and 1987 have a ‘Red Triangle’ on certain films to advise of sexual scenes and material that may be considered controversial. Not surprisingly the films with a ‘Red Triangle’ guaranteed nudity and erotic scenes causing audience figures to actually rise. After some moaning from the likes of Mary Whitehouse – a right-wing puritanical harpy who was a self-appointed anti-everything woman – the ‘Red Triangle’ was vanquished by Channel 4, but not before gaining notoriety and publicity.


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As a teenager I used to look forward to the more risqué content on Channel 4 as the Internet was at the virgin stage and yet to be invented; so titillation was often confined to late night films on a Friday night. Flash forward thirty years and because I’m more mature and it’s very easy to access pornography online I’m not a big fan of overtly sexual material in mainstream or independent features. Not sure why but I prefer subtlety and suggestion over all-out copulation. In Park Chan-Wook’s majestic erotic con-artist thriller there are some wonderfully subtle erotic scenes which raise the blood pressure and enhance the characterisation. There is also some serious scissoring between the two female leads going on too which in my view pushes the boundaries between eroticism, controversy and exploitation. However, this is the line Chan-Wook has always skipped along in classic films such as: Old Boy (2003), Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), and Thirst (2009).


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The Handmaiden is set in 1930’s Korea amidst the backdrop of the Japanese occupation and the cultural differences between the two nations are expertly drawn and examined in the story. Class differences are also highlighted in a rich text which finds Sook-hee seconded to look after the neurotic Lady Izumi Hideko, who is a ward and being groomed for marriage by her controlling Uncle Kouzuki. I will not give any further of the plot away but safe to say it is an incredibly complex narrative structured into three parts which overlap different perspectives within flashbacks and contrasting character voiceovers and angles.  Did I enjoy it? Absolutely, this is a beautifully shot period masterpiece which I took great pleasure in viewing. In my view the running time was arguably over-long and a couple of the more overt sex scenes could have been trimmed. Nonetheless, the film had me gripped throughout.


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Park Chan-Wook directed a gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013) for his first Hollywood film, but here is a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer cinema affair. It takes a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and imbues it with an erotically charged and explicit feminist love story which finds sharp-witted female characters overcoming the dominant and deviant patriarchal beast. Moreover, Chan Wook’s screenplay is a masterful adaptation of the original novel, the wonderfully titled Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Like the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan, Jacques Audiard, Michael Haneke to name a few, Chan-Wook’s work is always a must-see-at-the-cinema-event and you don’t need a ‘Red Triangle’ to ensure you watch it.

 (Mark: 9 out of 11)