Park Chan-wook’s latest work, “Decision to Leave,” is a love story out and out, presented in a beautiful package of thriller and drama. The plot of the film deals with a police detective, Jang Hae-joon’s struggles with insomnia, his utter boredom whenever there is no tough case, and then his growing romantic interest in one of the lead suspects in a murder case. “Decision to Leave” demands the patience of viewers and does not provide any easy linear solution even at the end, but it is particularly this style that the film specializes in, and it is the emotional weight that ultimately pays off.
‘Decision to Leave’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
The biggest drive-in police detective Jang Hae-joon’s life is to solve murder cases and put the perpetrators in prison, even if that means essentially spending his days alone. His wife Jeong-ahn lives in an outskirt city as part of her job at a nuclear power plant, and she wants Hae-joon to stay with her too, but the detective prefers to stay in the main city only because the crime rate is higher there. An interesting case of death soon happens when a middle-aged man is found dead at the foot of a small hill that is popular as a climbing spot. Although at first glance, the man does seem to have fallen by accident from the cliff above, the fact that he was a regular climber who would even make YouTube videos of his hobby makes authorities suspicious. After all, the man could have very well been pushed from the cliff to his death, and that is where Hae-joon and his partner Soo-wan begin their investigation. The deceased man’s only living relative happens to be his comparatively younger wife, Song Seo-rae, and there seems something odd about her from the moment she comes to the police station after being called. Seo-rae explains, a number of times, in fact, that she does not speak or understand Korean much as she is of Chinese origin, but her skills with the local language seem better than she proclaims. Her husband worked as an immigration officer of sorts and had helped Seo-rae settle down in the country when she had come over from China. Gradually more crucial details start to emerge when Seo-rae admits to Hae-joon that her husband used to physically assault her every time they had an argument, and they had recently had such an argument when she asked him not to go climbing. Scratch marks on the wife’s hands are also found to match her husband’s DNA, and the wife says that these were from her effort to stop him from hitting her. But there still seems to be a shroud of mystery about Seo-rae’s account, and perhaps it is this mystery that draws Hae-joon closer to her personally. As Seo-rae seems to be the suspect more and more, Hae-joon grows more attached to the woman.
What Does Hae-Joon Gradually Discover About Seo-Rae Through His Investigation?
Hae-joon begins his investigation, which soon turns into only a means for him to follow Seo-rae around and find out more about her. The woman keeps herself busy by volunteering as a caregiver for the elderly, going to different elderly patients’ houses on different days of the week, and spending quality time with them. This job of hers provides an initial alibi for her, as she is recorded in the security camera footage of the house of an old lady that she visits every Monday, both entering and leaving the place after the end of her shift. The climber had died at some point between this and now, and Seo-rae has to be ruled out as a suspect. However, Hae-joon does not give up on his pursuit of the woman, although this pursuit is not really one in which he directly approaches her. Instead, he watches her from the shadows, quite literally, as he makes it his habit to keep an eye on Seo-rae’s apartment every night. This soon develops into the unusual but extremely sensual and palpable love story that “Decision to Leave” is all about, and Seo-rae, too, falls for the detective who suspects her of being a murderer. The two gradually reach out to each other as they go out around the city together, and Seo-rae even wants to help Hae-joon with his unexplainable insomnia. The detective brings Seo-rae to his city apartment one day and shows her a wall full of details and photographs from cases he has been unable to solve yet, and the woman believes this to be the reason why Hae-joon cannot sleep at night. She carefully takes down all the photographs of the case of her husband’s mysterious death and burns them. Although this could have been perceived as a suspicious act, Hae-joon was possibly past these sensibilities at the time, and he also wholeheartedly believes whatever his lover tells him. It is indeed this unlawful, almost sinful quality of the relation—the thought at the back of the mind that no police detective should fall in love with his lead murder suspect—that makes this film all the more intense and worthwhile. Their love is also unusual because of the lack of any physicality whatsoever; they do not even kiss until just once, much later on, and yet there is sexual tension felt every time that the two share the screen. It is almost like Hae-joon cannot keep himself in check as Seo-rae tries to put him to sleep, and their rhythmic breathing complements the silence of the room. But such emotions are bound to let one down, and Hae-joon’s realization comes when he offers to visit one of the elderly in place of Seo-rae when she gets busy with another one admitted to a hospital.
Hae-joon incidentally visits the same old woman who Seo-rae visits on Mondays and also coincidentally comes across a fitness app on the woman’s phone, which shows a clear record of an exceptional number of 138 steps on a particular day. This detail sticks out like a sore thumb, both because the old woman is unable to walk at all and also due to the fact that she uses the exact same smartphone as Seo-rae. A suspicion grows in the detective’s mind, and he looks into the entire matter, checking out all the possibilities and scenarios, and by the end of it, he is left extremely disappointed by the result. Seo-rae had indeed slipped out of the woman’s house using the backdoor, which was not covered by any security cameras, traveled the short distance towards the hill by bus, and had then climbed the peak too, almost around the same time that her husband was doing so. After having reached the top from the other side than her husband, she had been the one to push the man down to his death. His last-minute attempts to grasp on to something had caused the scratches on Seo-rae’s hands, right before his fall, and the reason her hands were tough and hardened (which she had earlier claimed to be due to household and elderly care chores) is that she had used ropes and cables to climb the hill. Hae-joon soon confronts Seo-rae about all of this, but it is not anger or frustration that he expresses; he is rather disappointed by the woman. He wishes that she had trusted the police some more and had called in the police rather than killing her husband, which she had done because of his possessive and toxic nature and because he had also threatened to deport her back to China if she did not act on his wishes. The husband was a corrupt official in any case, as he used to take bribes from common people to grant them entry into the country, and all this was revealed in a blackmail letter and suicide note found in his room, both of which had been forged by Seo-rae. The woman had also known that her phone would be intensely checked by the police, and this was the reason she had used the old woman’s phone for the act before again returning to her house and exchanging it. At present, Hae-joon asks Seo-rae to destroy this phone since it contains all the evidence to incriminate her, and this marks an act of real love from his side. Seo-rae records the words on her personal phone as a scene of heightened emotions play out, but the two fall apart after this, and Hae-joon takes a transfer from the city.
Thirteen months pass and Hae-joon now lives in Lipo with his wife, and he serves as a police detective in this relatively harmless small town. The man has a tough time living with the drab and boring lack of crimes in the place, as the only crimes that take place here are petty thefts. One day, while out at the local fish market with his wife, Hae-joon suddenly sees Seo-rae, along with her new husband, Ho-sin, and the two couples make introductions to each other. Jeong-ahn is quick to notice her husband lost in thought when looking at Seo-rae and rightly suspects some past between the two, while Ho-sin, a stock market analyst by profession, himself gives Jeong-ahn his contact details. There is indeed something off with this new husband of Seo-rae’s, and soon enough, the man is found dead in the swimming pool of his own luxurious house. Hae-joon is sure that it is definitely his lover’s act this time too, and on their very first meeting after the incident, he asks her why she had killed her husband this time. There are also countless times when Hae-joon asks her why she married this man or why she moved to Lipo, but no satisfactory answer is ever given. There is a sense of rashness with regard to the love of these two characters, and a possibility like Seo-rae moving to Lipo with her new husband only to give her lover a tough case to work on is also not as absurd as it sounds. A scene shows Seo-rae cleaning the swimming pool of her house, which was full of her husband’s blood, right before calling the police to the scene. While this might be to remove evidence of some sort, this is also probably because Hae-joon had earlier told her about how he was repulsed by crime scenes with a lot of blood because of the stench. It is almost like Seo-rae is preparing a less unpleasant crime scene for her lover, who is about to arrive. At this time, she also sees Ho-sin as being alive, but whether she herself finishes him off or waits for him to die is unclear. As it turns out, Ho-sin was also a corrupt individual who had taken money from many people and was not in a state to repay them. One of these creditors, Sa Cheol-seong, happened to be the leader of a criminal gang, and he had recently threatened action against the couple, too, since the man’s mother was suffering from a serious illness, and he needed the money to get her treatment done.
In the meantime, Seo-rae is put under emergency arrest for some time, and a polygraph test is done on her too, but she seems to be let off when nothing incriminating is found in the test. As soon as Cheol-seong is picked up, he confesses to the murder and is put behind bars. But once again, Hae-joon refuses to give up his search for Seo-rae, and audio logs recorded on her smartwatch are checked for any new information. Around the same time, Seo-rae asks the detective to meet her at a remote location, and here she now professes her love for him, even though the exact words generally used to do so are not used. She now gives Hae-joon the old smartphone from the previous case and asks him to re-open the investigation, and the two share an intense kiss for the only time in the film. Their longing to be together and unite finally seems to be fulfilled, but this also perhaps makes way for an imminent fallout too. A call placed from Ho-sin’s number to Jeong-ahn’s phone has confused people for some time now, and when Ho-sin’s phone is recovered from the sea (Seo-rae had thrown it there), it is seen that he had indeed made this call. Text messages now reveal that he was threatening Seo-rae, saying that he would reveal her secret affair with police detective Hae-joon to his wife, and this was the reason why Ho-sin had called Jeong-ahn, but she had missed the call. As proof of their affair, Ho-sin says he would present a voice clip of the time when Hae-joon professed his love for Seo-rae. By this time, Jeong-ahn also leaves Hae-joon, as she suspects that he might have killed the man, as she already suspected him to have had an affair with Seo-rae. Pieces finally start to fall into place, and the detective finds out that Seo-rae had indeed not killed her second husband, at least directly, but had instead killed the ailing mother of Cheol-seong. She was sure this death would make the gangster kill Ho-sin, and this is what followed, and the secret about their love affair essentially died with Ho-sin.
‘Decision To Leave’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Seo-Rae And Hae-Joon At The End?
Hae-joon goes looking for Seo-rae and makes use of an app used by Cheol-seong to track her location and follow her. Seo-rae drives to the seaside and leaves her car to reach the place on foot, while Hae-joon goes looking for her with a specific question in his mind. He speaks to Seo-rae over the phone, and the woman confirms that her second husband intended to use their voice clip against them, the same voice clip in which Hae-joon had professed his love for her. The man confusedly asks whether he had ever done so, for he does not remember any such exchange of words, and neither have we been shown such a scene. Ultimately, Hae-joon reaches Seo-rae’s car and finds the voice recording in it, and his questions are finally answered. The clip that Seo-rae and Ho-sin had been talking about was the one in which Hae-joon told Seo-rae to throw away the phone, which would incriminate her for pushing her husband down from the cliff. It is not necessary to say specific words of expression or make specific promises to profess one’s love, and Hae-joon had clearly shown his love for Seo-rae by being willing to keep everything he had found about the case a secret and by helping her escape the law. He was ready to let her go, even if that meant hampering his own mental peace for more than a year since then.
“Decision to Leave” stresses on the question of how much one is ready to go for the sake of love, and Hae-joon had shown the extreme extent of his love to be capable of forgetting his duties of profession and passion for his lover. In a monologue towards the very end of the film, Seo-rae admits that now it was her turn to prove her love and to show the extent to which she would go to protect Hae-joon. She knows that if she goes missing from the scene all of a sudden and leaves the old phone only for Hae-joon to find, then the police detective would come under no scrutiny or harm. This was possibly the reason why she had gotten Ho-sin killed, even though she says that she had done so because the man had spent away all the money, he owed to Cheol-seong, and so she wanted to relieve the gangster’s mother of her pain. She had also thrown away her husband’s phone into the sea in order to protect Hae-joon from any slander and had possibly returned to Lipo to make sure that her lover could finally solve the case that had been haunting him for over a year. She leaves the phone with the voice recording back at her car, knowing that her lover will find it, and then walks to the seaside and digs a hole on the beach. With the high tide approaching, Seo-rae sits inside this hole and waits for the seawater to drown her. By the time Hae-joon reaches the spot, the entire hole and part of the beach are covered by water, and Seo-rae has essentially died by now. He desperately tries to look for her, informs his team that their lead suspect has gone missing, and then continues to search for her even amidst the rising water. “Decision to Leave” ends here, with the sad conclusion of its unusual love story, one that was to be about forgiveness and sacrifice from the very beginning.
“Decision to Leave” is a 2022 Drama Thriller directed by Park Chan-wook.