Over the past two decades, Korean auteur Park Chan-wook has developed a significant following in the U.S. due to the distinct character of his gruesome and suspenseful stories, from “Oldboy” to “The Handmaiden.” With that kind of track record, and his new detective noir “Decision to Leave” performing well in North American release, it’s hard to imagine why he would ever care for a remake of his work. On top of that, it’s already happened once, with Spike Lee’s 2013 version of “Oldboy,” which received a mixed response.
However, as Park told IndieWire in a recent interview, he was not only comfortable with the idea of an English-language remake of “Decision to Leave” — he saw real potential for it.
“If the original film is already pretty well received and well known in the other country, you might say that the remake is not necessary,” Park said, speaking over Zoom as part of IndieWire’s Consider This International series. “But I do think when you remake a film, and it’s made with the particular culture and perspective of the local country, it might help the local audience appreciate it better.”
In the case of “Decision to Leave,” Park said he saw value in a remake because of the specific way that the movie engages with its audience’s linguistic boundaries. The stylish drama revolves around the experiences of solitary detective Jang (Park Hae-il) on the trail of mysterious Chinese woman Song (Tang Wei) who may or may not be responsible for murdering her husband. As he continues to interrogate Song, Jang starts to contend with his own romantic attachment to her, which transcends the limitations of language between them. They often communicate using a translation app, which becomes a unique cinematic device.
Since the movie is primarily in Korean, American audiences who don’t speak Korean or Chinese are an additional degree removed from this aspect of the story. “When an American audience is watching it through subtitles, they have to take the time to imagine the situation that is going on on the screen,” Park said. “They are unable to instantaneously react to it or understand the situation, because both the Korean and Chinese language are subtitles on the screen for them.” In light of that, Park said he had a clear sense of how to transplant the would-be couple’s dynamic to a U.S. version.
“You might imagine a setup in which there’s a Mexican woman and an American man,” he said. “So we can see that this character is not particularly fluent in English, and when this character reveals their true feelings by speaking quickly in Spanish — and the audience goes through that same process, of being curious what this character is saying, and finally understanding what they’re saying through a translating app — all of that, I think, would be a more immersive experience if ‘Decision to Leave’ was remade.”
At the same time, the international dimension of “Decision to Leave” was a key factor for Park because it allowed him to work with Tang Wei, an actress he had admired since he first saw her in Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” back in 2007. “Despite her young age, you could really sense the depth and the maturity of her performance,” Park said. She really came off to me as an independent woman who does not rely on men or does not give into her destiny either.”
The filmmaker has often developed strong female characters at the center of his stories, which he credited in part to his longtime collaboration with a female co-writer, Jeong Seo-kyeong, but was reticent to reduce his process to a male-female binary. “I am not extra conscious of the opposite gender,” he said. “As for the many adjectives that are assigned to either gender — for instance, a man has to be this way, or a woman has to act this way — it’s not entirely wrong per se, but I do believe those adjectives are based on a very limited form of prejudice about either gender, so I try to break free of prejudices about them.”
Watch the full interview above to learn more about Park’s writing process, how he plays with audience expectations, and the backstory behind the scene in “Decision to Leave” featuring the most romantic use of chapstick in film history.