Decision to Leave
Upon rewatching Decision to Leave I noticed that Park Chan-wook and his cinematographer made some interesting use of selective focus during a pivotal interrogation scene. In the scene, detective Hae-joon (played by Park Hae-Il) interrogates Seo-rae (played by Tang Wei), a woman whose husband recently fell to his death in a rock climbing accident that may have been murder.
The scene is most often a two shot of the characters sitting across from each other,1 and it plays more like an awkward first date than an interrogation. Seo-rae is an immigrant from China who had previously introduced herself with an apology: “My Korean is insufficient”. Throughout the scene Seo-rae uses a translation app on her phone so she can better communicate, and as she speaks and Hae-joon responds, the camera starts to split focus between the foreground and the characters’ reflections in the mirror next to them, subtly underlining the disjointed conversation they are having. Despite sharing the same space they are visually separated from each other through these changes in focus.
At one point the perspective shifts, and now Seo-rae is boxed in on a computer monitor.
At the end of the scene Seo-rae stops translating via phone, and there’s a change in selective focus: now the foreground and reflection are both in focus when each character is speaking.
I still haven’t figured out what Park Chan-wook is trying to communicate with that last change in how the camera sees—is it that the characters now fully understand what the other has said, but they’re still not saying what’s really on their mind?
I was reminded of the dinner scene(s) from In the Mood for Love, and the diner scene from Thief. ↩︎