REVIEW: Decision to Leave


Park Chan-wook’s latest project is a masterclass in Hitchcockian suspense, weaving strands of  psychological thriller and seductive romance into a fully realized cinematic experience.

Park Chan-wook’s newest theatrical release, Decision to Leave, marks the end of his six year directorial hiatus, following his critically acclaimed film, The Handmaiden, an examination of colonial trauma under the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. With this recent outing, Park Chan-wook trades in his narrative lens for a more contemporary study of immigration policies; particularly, in regard to 21st century illegal immigration to South Korea. This is exemplified by the female protagonist, Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), an illegal Chinese immigrant who is suspected of murdering her husband in the opening half of the film. I found her character to be reminiscent of Kim Novak’s portrayal of Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, Vertigo. Wei commands the screen, her emotions simmering behind her invasive eyes. 

However, we primarily follow the character of Det. Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il), who leads the main investigation into the murder of Song Seo-rae’s husband. Hae-il plays him with a conservative fortitude, which is made all the more apparent with the comedic relief of his police sidekicks Yeon-su (Kim Shin-Young) and Soo-wan (Go Kyung-pyo). I found Kyung-pyo, in particular, to be a screen stealer; his comedic timing was never a second off. I can’t say much beyond this point, but their relationship mutates and evolves in ways I found truly unexpected; as well as the chemistry between Wei and Hae-il.

Park Chan-wook’s cinematography is also a revelation, using rapid successions of shots to create feelings of suspense and uneasiness, which culminates in sweeping tracking shots of fight scenes within the streets and rooftops of Busan. Not to mention an extremely visceral action scene involving a chain mail glove, which I have just learned is utilized in real life by the South Korean police force; a consequence of the outlawing of firearms within the country. Regardless, if you’re a cinephile or an admirer of South Korean culture, Decision to Leave is worth all the critical acclaim that it has garnered this award season. 

Now playing at The State Theatre. 



REVIEW: The Bacchus Lady

“The Bacchus Lady” is a poignant film about senior citizen So-Young (Youn Yuh-Jung), which delves into the larger social problems at play for the senior citizens of South Korea. The movie focuses on So-Young to demonstrate how hundreds of elderly women make a living– by selling cheap sex in parks. Bacchus, an energy drink, has quickly become a pseudonym for her profession.

The film starts out with a bang: just having tested positive for an S.T.D, So-Young witnesses her doctor being stabbed with scissors by his Filipina girlfriend, leaving their illegitimate child Min-Ho stranded. So-Young rushes him home with her, leaving him in the care of her neighbors while she works during the day. So-Young’s two neighbors Tina, her transgender landlady, and amputee Do-Hoon quickly assimilate the child into their makeshift family. Their relationships were wonderfully portrayed. They clearly all had their problems and issues to take care, but none hesitate to help the others.

So-Young’s daily life is quickly disrupted as she reconnects with three of her older clients, who are all experiencing the indignity and stress of old age and poverty. The director uses a young man making a documentary about bacchus ladies to clue the audience into the sad state of the elderly in Korea, where nearly 65% live below the poverty line. This is neatly contrasted with Min-Ho, who receives an abundance of resources from the government as an abandoned child. The three men are portrayed realistically; they have been abandoned by a system they helped build after the Korean War and are now left adrift and neglected. So-Young’s relationship with them is understanding, however, they all rely on her to help end their struggles.

Through her interactions with them, So-Young recalls her past where she was an escort for American soldiers at a military base and had to give her child up for adoption. Although her path to becoming a bacchus lady is never completely revealed, one scene shows her watching another elderly women collecting trash on the street– the only other job she could have had. She reminisced that her dignity would not have let her live like that. Through So-Young’s life, director EJ-Young reveals the limited options available to the elderly and the lack of a comprehensive support program for them.

The majority of the film is shot in the parks of Korea, beautifully green and full of luscious trees. The screen time devoted to the sexual aspects of So-Young’s jobs is anything but intimate, showing her monotony but also the disrespect by some of her customers. Aesthetically pleasing, the film portrays the realities and hardships of Korean life. Although brutally honest, EJ-Young doesn’t forget to include some humor as well.

Image: Hello Asia