Midway through Park Chan-wook’s latest film Decision to Leave, Inspector Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) makes his case. He explains in detail how Chinese immigrant Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) secretly tailed her abusive husband on a mountain climbing trip and waited for him to reach the summit. While he took in the view, unaware that he wasn’t alone, Seo-rae lunged forward and pushed her husband to the ground, covering up the murder as a suicide.
Hae-jun’s analysis is clear, his argument sound. To hear him tell it, there’s no doubt that Seo-rae murdered her husband. There’s just one problem: he makes his claims neither in a police station nor in a courthouse, but in Seo-rae’s apartment, where his statement takes on the quality of a confession of love.
“I was a proud policeman,” Hae-jun confesses, his trembling voice almost muffled by composer Jo Yeong-wook’s melancholy score. “But after going crazy for a woman, I ruined an investigation,” he begins, before pausing long enough for Park’s camera to zoom closer to his face. “Now I’m completely shattered.”
The scene’s South Korean setting might be unfamiliar to American viewers, but the scenario is not. Noir films, old and new, have long mined the idea of a once upright detective brought low by a femme fatale, an alluring woman whose involvement complicates a case. From classics such as The Big Heat and Vertigo to erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct, noir films clearly understand the corruption inherent in the most upright officer of the law. But as he’s done in movies such as Oldboy, The Handmaiden, and his English-language Hitchcock riff Stoker, Park mixes genres and tones to form surprising concoctions, making Decision to Leave into a powerful tale of police corruption.