Why the unnerving, poignant ending to ‘Decision to Leave’ had to be perfect

A woman stands in a hole at the shore with sand up to her neck in "Decision to Leave."
Tang Wei stars in “Decision to Leave” as both the love interest and a homicide suspect.


From the opening frame of “Decision to Leave,” a story about a detective falling in love with a homicide suspect, you’ll no doubt be consumed by the beauty of director Park Chan-wook’s images. They’re painterly, purposeful and framed with sedulous care. Color palettes subliminally invite you into the magnetism of his characters, pulling you in as if to suggest there’s something more going on beneath the surface.

There is no more perfect example of this than the climactic, heart-shattering sequence with Seo-rae (Tang Wei) as she stands in her own sandy grave during high tide, until only the top of her head is seen. The camera is placed low to the ground, framed from the perspective of water. As it slowly begins to rise, detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) races to the beach to find her. The moment is unnerving, poignant and pure Park.

Cinematographer Kim Ji-yong and the director planned each shot with meticulous detail. “The timing had to be perfect. The sun had to be just before sunset, and the tide had to be just right,” says Kim. “We only had two days, and if we missed it, we would have had to wait several months to shoot again to get the right moment.”