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South Korean Noir: The Cop and the Murderer

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The suspect gives a saliva sample. The commissioner (Park Hae-il) catches her eye. Eyes travel down to his wedding ring. You can feel his slight nervousness, the woman (Tang Wei) has done it to him. During the interrogation, both of them laugh far too often, and their gazes linger on the other’s eyes for a long time. Jang Hae-joon shouldn’t feel attracted to this woman. Not just because he’s married. But also because Song Seo-rae may have just killed her husband (Yoo Seung-mok).

At the beginning of “The Woman in the Mist” there is a lot of fast talking, but the looks also speak the same language. The camera traces their paths and tells what the characters dare not express in words. Park Chan-wook’s staging of these moments – the desire almost materializing and taking a seat at the interrogation room table – is simply a masterful one. Last year he was awarded the director’s prize in Cannes.

Loud violence and great will to style are Park’s trademarks

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Twenty years have passed since the South Korean filmmaker shook up the art house world with revenge thriller Old Boy. Harsh violence, staged with great style – that became his trademark. Park also enjoys working with intense sex scenes, particularly in The Pickpocket (2016), his most recent film to date.

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After that, Park Chan-wook filmed the John le Carré thriller “The Dragonfly” as a miniseries in London. An exhausting experience, as he explains in interviews today. The director was plagued by homesickness, so the visit to London by his long-time companion Chung Seo-kyung came at just the right time. They had already written four films together, now she brought him out of his low.

With “Woman in the Mist” Park Chan-wook wanted to make another decidedly South Korean film. The film industry in South Korea is currently experiencing a boom. Three years ago, “Parasite” became the first foreign-language film to win the main prize at the Oscars, and in 2021 “Squid Game” became the most-watched series in the world. South Korea has been drawing attention to itself at festivals and in art house cinema for a long time, and Park has played a part in that.

Preference for outlandish details

In the film noir “The Woman in the Mist” he significantly reduced the level of sex and violence. The view of the love story in the center remains unobstructed. For brief moments, the film even adopts the perspective of the characters, which becomes that of the audience – in search of deeper truths. Look, understand, see through or just not, this theme runs through “The Woman in the Fog”. An image that is repeated in the film: the investigator constantly drips his eyes.

Repressed Emotions: Song (Tang Wei) and Jang (Park Hae-il).
© youngukjeon/Plaion Pictures

Park and Chung draw the two main characters with a penchant for off-the-beaten-track details, thus subverting all noir clichés. On the one hand Jang Hae-joon, the sincere policeman who loves order and cleanliness and always carries around disinfectant wipes, lip balm and refreshing pastilles. On the other Song Seo-rae, who eats ice cream for dinner and keeps coming into contact with death. They become tangible as figures.

“The Woman in the Mist” plays with the rules of the genre. He twists them, widens them, so that the film turns out to be unexpectedly humorous, but above all melodramatic. Park has done similar things before with other genres: the science fiction fairy tale “I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK” (2006) and the vampire horror “Durst” (2009).

Alfred Hitchcock was the godfather

At the same time, his love for visual storytelling, especially for Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema, speaks from the images of “The Woman in the Mist”. Park’s film can also be understood as a “Vertigo” variant. He quotes motifs from the 1958 classic Fear of Heights, and the music by his resident composer Cho Young-wuk is also reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s famous score.

He even adopts the break in the middle of the film from his role model. Like “Vertigo”, “The Woman in the Mist” consists of two parts with different focal points. First of all, it is about the investigation and the rapprochement of the commissioner and the suspect. The second half is set by Park and Chung a year later when the characters meet again.

“The Woman in the Fog” is a dream shrouded in mystery, some scenes work like small riddles within a large picture puzzle. Park only incorporates crucial information with a time delay, and the film only reveals some secrets in incidental details. How femme fatale is Song Seo-rae? How sincere are the feelings she’s signaling to Jang Hae-joon in her mute looks? The film only answers this central question at the very end in a deeply sad resolution. One final, eternal mystery.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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