Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-Hyun, Park Yong-woo, Go Kyung-Pyo, Kim Shin-Young
Runtime: 2 hrs 18 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 14 July 2022
Synopsis: A man falls from a mountain peak to his death. The detective in charge, Hae-joon (PARK Hae-il), comes to meet the dead man's wife Seo-rae (TANG Wei). "I worry when he does not come back from a mountain, thinking he might die at last." Seo-rae does not show any signs of agitation at her husband's death. With her behavior so unlike that of a grieving relative, the police consider her a suspect. Hae-joon interrogates Seo-rae, and while observing her on stakeout, feels himself slowly developing an interest in her. Meanwhile the difficult-to-read Seo-rae, despite being suspected of a crime, acts boldly towards Hae-joon. A suspect who is hiding her true feelings. A detective who suspects and desires his suspect. Their Decision to Leave.
This writer caught the 4K restoration of Park Chan-wook's 2003 film Oldboy on the big screen recently, and was as shaken by the movie’s impact when he first watched it 17 years ago. And cinephiles would know that Park would go on to direct other classics like Lady Vengeance (2005), Thirst (2009) and The Handmaiden (2016), and each of these titles showcases the filmmaker’s masterful and sensual storytelling skills.
Just as we thought Park wouldn’t be able to outdo himself, along comes this thriller that seems like a crime drama initially, but beautifully unfolds into one of the greatest love stories we’ve ever seen on screen.
The film starts by introducing us to Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), a detective based in Busan who is known for his painstakingly meticulous attitude when it comes to investigations. He is suffering from insomnia, and that makes him the perfect candidate for stakeouts in the middle of the night. When a man falls to his death from a mountain, Hae-joon and his young deputy Soo-wan (Go Jyung-pyo) spring into action to see whether there’s foul play involved.
Next, we are introduced to the victim’s Chinese wife Seo-rae (the ever elegant and illuminating Tang Wei), who may be more than just the demure lady she appears to be. She takes care of elderly patients, and it appears that she may have been beaten by her husband. She naturally becomes a prime suspect, and we can’t blame Hae-joon for being increasingly attracted to her, especially when his wife (Lee Jung-hyun) is working in a coastal area and he only sees her on weekends.
Without saying too much, the plot evolves and the hiker’s death is ruled as a suicide. Hae-joon and Seo-rae part ways, and you’d be simple minded if you thought this is all Park has to offer. The story switches locations, more deaths show up, and Hae-joon is in charge of the investigations. Seo-rae shows up, and the two protagonists continue a tale where secrets begin unveiling themselves.
On paper, what you’ve read does seem like a standard crime drama that would any other filmmaker would have been able to direct. But we watch a Park Chan-wook film expecting to be blown away by an exquisitely told story. We are not disappointed – every frame in this 138 minute movie is elegantly crafted, the cinematography is lovely, the dark humour is spot on, and you’ll be paying close attention to every detail you can catch, gleefully desiring what is going to happen next in the screenplay written by Park and Jeong Seo-kyeong.
Park knows how to captivate his viewers with the most gorgeous details. A scene where Hae-joon and Seo-rae wipe the table in the interrogation room after having an expensive sushi bento box is choreographed like a dance, a flashback sequence where Hae-joon recalls another crime is a poignant reflection of his personality, a romantic scene where Hae-joon and Seo-rae visit a temple and talk about the 12 pockets in his jacket and the six pockets in his pants is strangely calming, and the reunion between Hae-joon and Seo-rae (with their respective spouses) at a wet market is more tense than what most Hollywood dramas have to offer.
Kudos to Park and Tang as well, for playing their roles with pitch perfect sophistication. Park portrays a man who is hanging on to any lingering bit of adrenaline amidst his utmost fatigue, and becomes infatuated when a mysteriously alluring woman enters his life. Tang, who rose to fame with her role as a ravishing spy in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (2007), is affectionately relatable in her latest performance as a woman who is yearning for love and connection, but has been looking in the wrong places.
Together with Broker’s Song Kang Ho (who won the Best Actor prize), Park made Korea proud at this year’s Cannes Film Festival by clinching the Best Director award, marking the first time two Korean films have won an award at the festival in the same year. And this is undoubtedly well deserved.
(Expect nothing less from Park Choon-wook, whose latest work is a meticulously-made, gorgeous and alluring film about desire and love)
Review by John Li