Lee Jung-hyun

Decision to Leave

26/10/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

A new release from Park Chan-wook is always a cause for celebration, but anyone expecting the unbridled sexuality of The Handmaiden may be surprised to learn that Decision to Leave is a much more chaste affair. Yes, there’s passion here, but it’s portrayed almost entirely in words (in some cases via a Chinese-Korean translation app) and in discreet sidelong glances.

Workaholic Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is summoned to investigate the death of a mountain climber who has fallen from a great height. But did the man jump or was he pushed? Suspicion soon falls on his Chinese wife, Seo-rei (Tang Wei), and Hae-jun, who is already suffering from chronic insomnia, starts to spend his nights surveilling her. He follows her around Busan, studies her routines and chronicles her every move. And then he begins to realise that he is falling in love with her and that what began as professional interest is turning into something much more compelling…

This is one of those films where it would be criminal to give too much of the plot away – and besides, the ensuing story is so labyrinthine, so full of unexpected twists and turns, it would be pretty much impossible to do that even if I wanted to. Armchair detectives will have a field day trying to figure out the mysteries wrapped up in this story and I’m fairly certain that very few are likely to guess at the baffling solution to this strange, enigmatic puzzle of a film.

Park Chan-wook’s distinctive visual style – aided and abetted by cinematographer Kin Je-yong – is to the fore throughout and, as ever, he relishes playing tricks on the viewer, constantly tinkering with our perceptions and expectations. Both the leads dazzle in their roles, and are ably supported by a fine cast, particularly by Lee Jung-hyun as Hae-jun’s statistic-obsessed wife, Jung-an – but this is essentially a two-hander.

With a running time of two hours and nineteen minutes, I do occasionally find myself wishing that the pace wasn’t quite so glacial, but the great director has never been one to hurry himself over anything and, despite my reservations, Decision to Leave manages to hold me in a powerful grip right up to its chilling final frame.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsular

12/12/20

Apple TV

That odd, unwieldy title ensures there can be no mistake.

This is, indeed, the eagerly awaited sequel to Yeon Sang-ho’s zombie apocalypse action-flick, Train To Busan (2016), a film that completely reinvigorated a tired genre, providing the kick up the backside it was in dire need of. As in the first blood-spattered helping, it’s clear that the director doesn’t much care for ‘less is more.’ In Yeon Sang-ho’s world, zombies don’t stumble along like OAPs, they come after their prey like champion sprinters on steroids, and they come in overwhelming numbers. They writhe, convulse and gallop across the screen. They tumble off wrecked bridges, slither through shallow water and explode through glass barriers. Trust me, I’m talking peak-zombie.

Penisula is set four years after the first story. South Korea has now become a quarantine zone, a place completely overrun by the undead. They’re very short-sighted now, but are attracted to bright lights and loud noises. Surely nobody would be stupid enough to venture back there? Especially ex-army officer Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) and his brother in law, Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon), who, as we learn in the film’s pre-credit sequence, have every reason to be afraid of the undead.

But the two men are Korean exiles living in Hong Kong, where they are despised by the local population and can’t find work. So, when an HK gang lord hears of a lorry packed with millions of American dollars, abandoned somewhere in the quarantine zone, he sets about putting together a gang desperate enough to go after it. It’ll be easy. Bish, bash, bosh, and you’re millionaires! And of course, our two heroes can’t resist.

While Peninsula might not be quite as brilliant as its progenitor – it loses, I suppose, the surprise factor that the first film had in spades – it’s nonetheless superior stuff. The devastated cityscapes of what used to be Incheon are astonishingly rendered (and really make me wish I could view this on a cinema screen), while Yeon Song-ho’s encounter with Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun), a woman he failed to help in the past, gives us a reason to care about what happens to both of them.

The film’s trump card though is provided by Min-jung’s daughters, Jooni (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), who have developed a way with cars (both real and the radio-controlled variety) that would put Max Rockatansky to shame. There’s also a lovely turn by Koo Kyo-hwan as Captain Seo, the former head of a military unit, now turned into a deranged despot, fond of organising bizarre games where he pits luckless captives against the infected. As before, the theme is clear. Humankind is capable of behaving in ways that make their zombie counterparts look almost reasonable by comparison.

There’s plenty here to relish: there are fight scenes, fright scenes and car chases aplenty. There are crashes, smashes and (literal) fireworks. In a nail-biting extended conclusion, the director mercilessly piles on the suspense – at several points he actually has me yelling at the screen – and there’s a satisfying reveal towards the end which I really don’t see coming.

Okay, so this hardly qualifies as a heartwarming film for the festive season, I get that… but if you’re in the market for a good zombie apocalypse picture, this one will be hard to beat.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney