Thursday, November 3, 2022

Park Chan-wook's "Decision to Leave" at SIFF Cinema & Northwest Film Forum: Oct 21 - Nov 10 & Oct 28 - Nov 23

A return to form was seen in Park Chan-wook's 2016 resetting of "Fingersmith" by Welsh writer Sarah Waters. In his hands the director of international breakout hits like "Old Boy" distorted and warped the text into his own "The Handmaiden" through numerous perspectival shifts, abundant voyeurism, and academic eroticism. Often told in the form of theatrical readings of Shunga illustrated erotica, "Park Chan-wook Returns with an Erotic Romance, Con-artist Story and Period Piece". The film's further assimilation from the vocabulary of the thriller and it's suspense built from an atmosphere of rich and erotic textures, found the director even more firmly in Hitchcock territory than usual, as discussed at length in interview with FilmStage, "Park Chan-wook Talks ‘The Handmaiden,’ Male Gaze and Queer Influence". Similarly, this year's Cannes award-winning film from the director unabashedly delves into crime thriller territory, with more than a slight resemblance in its uneven terrain and abundant twists, to Aflred Hitchcock's 1958 masterpiece. Yet "Decision to Leave" at SIFF Cinema and Northwest Film Forum this month and on Mubi this coming winter, distinguishes itself as Park's own particular brand of 21st century romantic thriller. All the while, "Park Chan-wook’s Thrilling Mystery is Noir at its Most Nourishing", offering richly satisfying points of genre reference making for a modern work within an established form. But in this case, it's precisely the protagonist detective, Hae-joon's investigative skills, matched and mirrored by Park Chan-wook and his co-writer, Chung Seo-kyung, that result in the whole of the perspective being thrown off balance. Park Hai-il captures the steady unraveling of Hae-joon, and the viewer's perspective, with an intimacy that's all the more remarkable for being concealed behind a curt, efficient veneer. The personal and professional begin to blur as Hae-joon stakes out the home of murder suspect, Seo-rae, in an invasion of privacy that she amusedly acknowledges and even, in a sense, enticingly welcomes. And it is Seo-rae, as portrayed by Tang Wei, is the pivot around which the whole mystery turns, "Decision to Leave: Tang Wei Stuns in Park Chan-wook Black-widow Noir". If thoughts turn again to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo", these associations aren't misplaced. through a number of elaborately staged scenes, the director unleashes a tide of associations and allusions to that particular psychological thriller; a surveillance subject that becomes a desire subject, a noir romantic template that resets and returns to itself halfway through, and in "Vertigo's" opening, a fall from a great height being central to both stories. Park Chan-wook has shown himself to have a flair for grandiose, and sometimes indulgent, stylistic flourishes, but here he has seized upon Hitchcock's aesthetics of voyeurism and obsession, and utilized these inclinations to better serve our journey through "Decision to Leave's Labyrinth of Desire".