Seeking Mountains, aspiring to be the sea

Zhang Shanjian is back  2022-12-14 23:00 Posted on Beijing


After watching the movie “Decision to Leave,” I felt a foggy confusion, similar to the repeatedly mentioned song “Fog” in the film. Mixed feelings enveloped me like stains on a dirty coat, reminiscent of a love story tangled with classical elegance and restrained emotion. The director’s penchant for creating distance effects, along with his unique audiovisual style and multi-threaded montages, adds a layer of mystery to the film.

The film opens with the male lead, Hae-jun, practicing shooting with a police officer. Despite his near-perfect shooting skills, he nearly dozes off while driving back to his fog-enshrouded home in Ipo every weekend. His colorless life is disrupted by a murder case and a female suspect.

The female protagonist, Song Raeli, exhibits intricately set linguistic habits. The mutual probing during interrogation and the dynamic of watching and being watched create an interactive spatial relationship. Hae-jun inadvertently reveals concern in his observations, like commenting on her eating ice cream for dinner or smoking after meals, and instinctively helping her with a falling cigarette ash. These surveillance recordings, typically objective in public files, here hint at a forbidden and dangerous romantic element. The director uses object comparisons for spatial closure, combining peculiar sound effects to immerse the audience. Flashbacks seem to advance not just scenes, but also the characters’ hearts.

Raeli responds in kind to Hae-jun’s push-and-pull tactics. Hae-jun, while surveilling Raeli, witnesses her burying a crow and speaking to it in Chinese, expressing a desire for his “heart.” Misinterpreting through translation software, he thinks she wants his physical heart, creating a plot highlight. This language barrier and misunderstanding might suggest Hae-jun’s readiness to give everything to get close to her. Later, he finds two crow feathers in a clear vase at Raeli’s house. The film frequently employs symbolic metaphors, somewhat lacking in emotional dynamics and clear indicators of love’s inception, bringing back the rising fog of uncertain emotions.

Hae-jun is distressed by the domestic violence Raeli endures and wonders why she chose to marry such a person. He convinces himself to accept that she had a history of matricide. Even when he confirms Raeli as the murderer of her husband, he opts to conceal the truth for her, embodying his love by risking his career to solve her problems. This echoes Raeli’s words at the end, “The moment your love ended, mine began.”

In the story, when Hae-jun hands over the mobile phone containing evidence of Raeli’s crime to her and lets her throw it into the sea, it signifies the end of his love for her. From that point on, the narrative shifts to the start of Raeli’s love story for Hae-jun, where she is willing to risk her own life.

During their reunion at Ipo market, both Hae-jun and Raeli see each other’s partners. Camera shots highlighting hairstyles and shoes silently convey that both have moved on to seemingly happy lives. Beneath the calm, lies a profound obsession. Raeli can only see Hae-jun by becoming a suspect in his cases.

Hae-jun, amidst Raeli’s passionate love and the deaths of two innocents, wanders lost in confusion. As depicted in the movie poster, Raeli is always alert and caring, ready to sacrifice herself for love, while Hae-jun is metaphorically blind, unable to see the reality of his life and only awakening his dormant spirit when a case demands.

In the story’s conclusion, Raeli buries herself in the sand on a beach, allowing the tide to erase all traces of her existence. This act signifies a lack of desire for rescue, a departure without longing, perhaps a resolve to part ways – both with Hae-jun and the world itself.

Or perhaps, the moment Hae-jun forgot he said “I love you,” she realized the man she had been searching for half her life, her so-called support, ultimately had nothing to rely on.

The film frequently employs natural imagery like “mountains,” “seas,” and “fog,” with elements like wallpaper, blue-green dresses, and references to the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” (山海经) deepening these contrasting yet incompatible images. This classic, however, is not about understated romance but about mythical landscapes and creatures. It records the nine-headed snake, the three-legged bird, and the beast with a human face. Demons are considered non-human because they are embodiments of deformed bodies and souls.  Their forms are shaped by fixations and desires in certain aspects, resulting in either extreme ugliness or greed, or an intense bias in one trait due to a deficiency in another. At times, the female lead resembles a bewitching demon, embodying a madness beyond the ordinary, where hatred can drive one to murder and love to death.

In a sense, the male protagonist represents reality, societal norms, and the demands of class and power, while the female protagonist symbolizes ideals, a detachment from the world, and an outsider to the system. The male lead embodies human reality, whereas the female lead transcends the realm of the ordinary human experience.

The man’s actions are driven by his desires, transitioning from spying to falling in love with her, but ultimately returning to his loveless, repressive marriage and his esteemed role as a police officer. His fear of reality overshadows his love for the female lead. The woman, in contrast, is like a vividly red canvas, loving purely and passionately. Her love is as bright as her self-destruction in the face of cruel fantasies.

It’s possible that until the end, the male protagonist never truly understood the female protagonist. If he did, he would realize that her so-called love wasn’t just a superficial chase along the coast, or her unexpected embrace from behind that left him wide-eyed, fearing for his life. This might represent the fundamental difference between the mountains and the sea.

So if you can’t find that mountain, it might be better to become your own sea. Observe dispassionately, deep and silent, seeing through everything, embracing all, and finally burying the secrets deep in your heart at the bottom of the sea. This is often the way of the deep blue.


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