Directed by Chan-wook Park and written by Park and Seo-kyeong Jeong, Heojil gyeolsim (Decision to Leave) is the story of a detective who investigates the murder of a man on a mountaintop where that man’s wife is the suspect whom the detective falls for. The film is a suspense-drama in which a man tries to make sense of a murder on a unique location while he also deals with his own issues and the woman he has fallen for despite the fact that she is the prime suspect. Starring Tang Wei and Park Hae-il. Heojil gyeolsim is a ravishing yet gripping film from Chan-wook Park.
The film revolves around an insomniac detective who is tasked to investigate the death of a mountain climber as he and others believe it wasn’t an accident with the climber’s young wife being a major suspect as the detective falls for her leading to all sorts of trouble. It is a film that plays into a man who is married but distant from his wife while is fascinated by this Chinese-born woman who is married to a man much older than her with people questioning whether she was at the mountain despite her fear of heights. The film’s screenplay by Chan-wook Park and Seo-kyeong Jeong is largely straightforward in its narrative yet has an offbeat structure in its approach to drama and suspense. The first act is about this case but also other cases that Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is taking part in with his young partner Soo-Wan (Go Kyung-pyo) to these cases including the death of Ki Do-soo (Yoo Seung-mok).
Ki’s wife Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) is an emigrant from China that works as a senior citizens caretaker is initially the suspect due to scratches, bruises, and such on her body believing that it’s a domestic abuse situation but Soo-Wan and others are suspicious. Even as Jang learns about Song’s family background and other things about her while imagining being in her home and getting to know her though she is aware that he’s watching her. The first half plays into this investigation and Jang’s growing attracting to Song as they get to know each other despite the fact that he’s married the nuclear power plant worker Jung-An (Lee Jung-hyun) and still cares about her. Yet, Song would help Jang deal with his insomnia until the case is closed where Jang does make some unsettling discoveries as the film’s second half then shifts to thirteen months later where Song is engaged to another man while Jang moves from Busan to Ipo to be with his wife as he’s also getting treatment for his insomnia and growing depression. Yet, Song is also in Ipo as it would complicate things as does another death with Song being the suspect.
Park’s direction is definitely mesmerizing as it is shot largely on location in Busan as well as additional locations in Ipo as it play into this world in South Korea that includes mountains including this part of a mountain where Ki died. The usage of the locations do add a lot to the visual language of the film as well as the usage of wide shots including intricate crane and drone shots that includes a chase where Jang goes after a criminal on top of the apartment buildings. Even for the scenes in the mountains including this one key place where Ki would film things on Go-Pro to showcase how to climb this particular mountain where Jang would climb it himself just to understand what would happen if Ki did get murder. The usage of close-ups and medium shots add to not just the intimacy of some scenes at the homes of both Jang and Song but also in the former of as the attention to detail is key to the film’s visual language. It is all about what characters are looking at and seeing in grand detail as Jang is just trying to make sense of what is going as well as Song’s own background as her grandfather was a Korean independence fighter during the Manchurian period.
Park also maintains this air of fantasy within Jang as he often imagines himself in a situation as if he is trying to understand Song through his surveillance bits as an attempt to curb his insomnia. Song would know about this as she would follow him during one of his cases where he fights a criminal with a metallic glove while helping with another case where he chases one on top of buildings. In the film’s second half where it’s set in Ipo, the film definitely changes from this big metropolis that is Busan to something smaller but still rich in its locations. However, things become more unsettling where Jang is dealing with Song again as she is distant but also in some trouble relating to her new husband. It would force Jang to look again at everything around him as well as reflect on his time with Song back at Busan forcing him to confront things in his life but also his feelings for Song. Overall, Park crafts a chilling yet evocative film about a detective who falls for his prime suspect in a mountain accident case.
Cinematographer Kim Ji-yong does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on shooting in misty weather for some scenes as well as emphasize on natural lighting with some heightened filters to give the film a dream-like feel along with some unique lighting for the interior scenes at night. Editor Kim Sang-bum does excellent work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense as well as some of the chase scenes in the film. Production designer Ryu Seong-hie and art director Lee Eun-jin do amazing work with the look of the apartment home that Jang lives in at Busan as well as the home he and his wife have at Ipo as well as the home that Song lived in at Busan. Costume designer Kwak Jung-ae does fantastic work with the costumes that is most notable for some of the clothes that Song wears including a blue-green dress in the film’s second half.
Makeup designer Song Jong-hee does nice work with the design of the makeup in a few dead bodies that would be key to Jang’s own investigation as well as the look of Song later in the film’s second half. Visual effects supervisor Scott Seungje Lee does terrific work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it is largely bits of set dressing for some scenes in the mountains as well as some dream sequences from Jang’s perspective. The sound work of Suk-won Kim is superb for its mixing as it help play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as some of the way phone recordings and such are presented. The film’s music by Jo Yeong-wook is incredible for its discerning yet rich score that is filled with these unique string arrangements that add to the suspense and drama with some soaring and lush themes to more pluck-based themes as it is a highlight of the film as well as a famous Korean pop song from the 1960s that is used in the film that also features a modern-day cover.
The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Jung Young-Sook as an old woman Song takes care of, Seo Hyun-woo as a man named Slappy who has issues with Song’s new husband in the film’s third act over money, Joo In-young as a caregiver company director who talks about what Song does, Choi Dae-hoon as a sleep clinic doctor who brings a comical moment in how to wear a sleeping mask, Jung Yi-seo as a police investigator who helps Jang in dealing with Song’s case at Busan, Park Jeong-min as a criminal in San-oh whom Jang is trying to capture as his motive for the crime proves to be something that Jang would sympathize with, and Yoo Seung-mok as Song’s first husband Ki Do-soo who is a mountain climber/immigrant official who is the subject of the murder case where Song is the major suspect.
Park Yong-woo is fantastic as Song’s second husband Im Ho-shin who is a famous financial analyst that becomes suspicious about Song in their encounter with Jang and his wife leading to trouble. Kim Shin-young is excellent as Yeon-su as Jang’s partner in Ipo as she is a comical figure of sorts as someone who is sort of a novice yet is aware that Jang is becoming a liability in the investigation as it relates to Song. Go Kyung-pyo is brilliant as Soo-wan as Jang’s young partner in Busan who is suspicious towards Song as he is also someone that is green when it comes to being an investigator as well as being physically unfit in chases. Lee Jung-hyun is amazing as Jang’s wife Jung-an as a nuclear power plant worker who is in a distant though loving marriage with Jang as she often talks about divorces while becoming concerned for her husband and his insomnia.
Park Hae-il is incredible as Detective Jang Hae-jun as a police investigator dealing with insomnia as he is entranced by Song whom he falls for as he deals with the severity of his cases that contribute to his insomnia and obsession with Song where he displays an anguish and desperation of a man that is in love but also knowing he is putting himself in trouble. Finally, there’s Tang Wei in a phenomenal performance as Song Seo-rae as a Chinese emigrant who is married to this immigrant official who is older than her as she becomes a suspect due to her lack of emotional reaction towards his death where Wei brings in a sense of restraint but also someone who is also cunning and vulnerable as someone who is dealing with a lot of resentment and bad choices. Wei and Hae-il together are a joy to watch as they play into this sense of tension but also a sense of longing towards one another as they are an immense highlight of the film.
Heojil gyeolsim is an outstanding film from Chan-wook Park that features tremendous leading performances from Tang Wei and Park Hae-il. Along with its ensemble cast, ravishing visual, study of temptation and desire, a chilling music score, and its intense approach to dramatic suspense. The film is definitely an unconventional yet engrossing suspense-drama that is more of a study of two people who are tailing each other as it is also one of Park’s most accessible film to date. In the end, Heojil gyeolsim is a magnificent film from Chan-wook Park.
Chan-wook Park Films: (The Moon is… the Sun’s Dream) – (Trio (1997 film)) – Judgement (1999 short film) - JSA: Joint Security Area - Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance - (If You Were Me-Never Ending Peace and Love) – Oldboy - Three... Extremes-Cut - Lady Vengeance - I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK - Thirst (2009 film) - (Night Fishing) – (60 Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero) – (Day Trip) – Stoker - The Handmaiden - (The Little Drummer Girl (2018 TV series)
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