Director Park Chan-wook has re-established his place in the hallowed halls of the Korean film industry with Decision to Leave. Already nominated for a Golden Globe after sweeping the Blue Dragon awards in its home country and winning Best Director at Cannes, his latest mystery thriller follows in the footsteps of predecessors Oldboy and The Handmaiden by combining genres in an unexpected way. While the setup is that of a typical detective story, the interplay of forbidden love renders the narrative unreliable—something that is made evident through cinematography and even design choices.
Decision to Leave follows a passionate, though seemingly chaste, affair between police detective Jang Hae-joon (Park Hae-il, Squid Game) and the recently widowed Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei, Lust, Caution) whom he suspects of murdering her much older husband. What begins as a game of cat and mouse in the sunny city of Busan eventually becomes a tale of frustrated longing in the mist-filled (and fictional) town of Ipo. As Hae-joon’s feelings for Seo-rae grow stronger, his marriage weakens along with his ability to solve the string of deaths connected to her.
Screen Rant spoke to costume designer Jung Ae-kwak about her collaboration process when it came to Decision to Leave, the significance of some of Seo-rae’s most iconic pieces, and which film she’s working on now.
Jung Ae-Kwak On Designing Decision To Leave Costumes
Screen Rant: How did you get your start in costume designing, and what do you hope to add to the script when you begin a project?
Jung Ae-kwak: I was a student in art school who was more interested in the lives of artists than making my own art, and I was also in love with movies. After graduation, I developed an interest in how movies are made, which led to me wondering what would I be best at if I work in a film crew. Ultimately, I found myself working in the field.
Whenever I begin working on a film project, I want to express my current interests through the costume for the film. Sometimes I look back at my old projects and check in on what my interests were at the time… It’s embarrassing to think about.
How much preparation back and forth do you have with the director, Park Chan-wook, before you get started on the costumes?
Jung Ae-kwak: In pre-production, I shared numerous conversations with the director. We share ideas over texts, and when it’s urgent, we talk over the phone as well. For Decision to Leave, we discussed what true love really means, and eventually also debated whether Hae-joon and Seo-rae had sex, despite the fact it was not portrayed in the film. I remember how we had such unfiltered discussions about sex despite our different genders.
What is the significance of Seo Rae’s sometimes blue and sometimes green dress?
Jung Ae-kwak: On the surface, it’s to express how it looks different according to the intensity of the light or the angle, but more internally speaking, I think it expresses how Seo-rae is viewed through different people’s perspectives.
Did any of the actors have input when it came to their outfits, or did it all come from you and the creative team?
Jung Ae-kwak: Of course, the actor has to play the character themselves, so I listen closely to their opinions. When we costume design for the character after sharing great conversations and offering great ideas to each other, we can easily get to know each other better and become close friends as well.
How do you mark the difference between life in Busan and in Ipo through clothes?
Jung Ae-kwak: The psychological and physical pain in her life before Ipo was expressed in vivid complementary color combinations, and the frustration of being unable to express her love in her life at Ipo was expressed with darker, inconspicuous colors.
How did Seo Rae’s outfits reflect the state of her marriages and widowhood throughout the film, in comparison to who she is with Hae Joon?
Jung Ae-kwak: When she lost her first husband, I portrayed Seo-rae as a mysterious woman who despite her pretty face, casually wears men’s jackets and coats. After she married her second husband, Seo-rae is shown with an ornate sense of fashion that is derived from her desire for Hae-joon’s love, so that she can catch his attention.
What is your next project and what can you tell us about it?
Jung Ae-kwak: It’s a film called Harbin that tells the story of hero An Jung-geun, who led the Korean independence movement against Japanese imperialism. We’re diligently filming right now, listening to the director say every day, “The wind of the Manchuria fields was the souls of our comrades who have passed away before us.”
About Decision To Leave
A detective investigating a man’s death in the mountains ends up meeting and developing feelings for the dead man’s mysterious wife in the course of his dogged sleuthing.
Check out our interview with Decision to Leave cinematographer Kim Ji-yong as well.
Decision to Leave is currently playing in select theaters and is available to stream on Mubi.