‘Decision To Leave’ Ending, Explained: Did Jung Hae Jun Find Song Seo-Rae? Is She Dead?

In true Park Chan Wook style, “Decision to Leave” is an eerie and gripping romance-noir that, even in its highly complex storytelling, delivers a gut-punching ending that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. A text-book detective film in its first act that spirals into a chaotic last act that leaves you tongue-tied, “Decision to Leave” primarily relies on the soaring chemistry between its two leads, Park Hae-Il and Tang Wei, who are incredible as detective and suspect (respectively) turned lovers. This haunting love story, released six years after director Park’s last superhit, “The Handmaiden,” has definitely matched audiences’ high expectations caused by this massive gap by the world-renowned director. While this film is not as fast-paced or remotely as violent as “Oldboy” or, for that matter, any of his earlier masterpieces, Park’s use of symbols, cinematography, and angles create a magical world that you wouldn’t turn away from (even with its bleak premise). Tread lightly if you’re not one for slow burns, though, as the story takes its own sweet two-hour, twenty-minute run time to reach a catharsis, which may not satisfy all moviegoers.


Spoilers Ahead

‘Decision To Leave’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

The movie opens with an old man plunging to his death from a mountain peak. We meet our protagonist, insomniac-detective Hae-jun, who is here to solve the mysterious death of this mountain climber. A meticulous detective with tailor-made clothing with numerous pockets, a dedicated husband (who diligently obeys his wife’s rule of no smoking), and an overall simple man, Hae-jun soon finds himself intrigued by the wife of the late mountain climber, whom he believes has murdered her husband. An alluring first meeting in the observation room brings searing heat to the scene immediately due to Song Seo-Rae‘s (who is Chinese) inability to speak Korean properly. A sweet moment shared by the two peaks Hae-jun’s interest as their fingers brush against each other, and he starts to follow her around with the excuse of observing her as a suspect in the murder. It is very clear from the beginning that Hae-jun is instantly infatuated with Seo-Rae’s beauty and charm. He starts to record her every move through voice notes and feels an increasing closeness to her. Mysterious Seo-Rae is quick to notice the detective and even calls him out for his “stocking.” Eventually, the two form a strange bond that unravels like a plump and ripe orange, only to turn sour. Their inconspicuous love story begins at Seo-Rae’s home and embarks on a slow journey where they never express their feelings in words but only through little, unique gestures of care. Amidst their blossoming love, Hae-jun discovers that Seo-Rae is, in fact, the true murderer of her husband and warns her to hide the evidence. It turns out that her husband was abusive, and that is why she took this drastic step. Hae-jun tells her that they will never meet again, and a year later, he is depressed in a small town with his wife, who knows the only way he can find his true self again is if there is a murder to investigate. The two visit the local fish store, and to Hae-jun’s surprise, he is met by Seo-Rae, who is now married to another man. They share a delicate moment, even in front of each other’s partners, and end up parting ways rather quickly. The next morning, Hae-jun is called in for an investigation for murder. The victim is Seo-Rae’s new husband. Infuriated, Hae-jun confronts Seo-Rae and asks her if this is the reason she came there. Did Seo-Rae murder her second husband? Truthfully, why did she come there?


‘Decision To Leave’ Ending Explained – What Is Park Chan Wook’s Deeper Meaning Of Love? Is Song Seo-Rae Dead Or Alive? 

If we had to talk about the intricacy of this movie, we would be spending hours together, and still, each person would come up with a variety of answers for everything that occurs in “Decision to Leave.” To address the elephant in the room, what we know, in fact, is that Seo-Rae did die at the end, leaving Hae-jun standing tall rather than “collapsing” into the ocean. Let’s try to understand this a little bit. Park Chan Wook has never failed due to his incredibly unique method of filmmaking, creating an atmosphere for moviegoers to revisit his film many days after they’ve watched it. In “Decision to Leave,” our two main leads are symbolically represented by mountains and the ocean. Detective Hae-jun is the tall mountain, and Seo-Rae is the vast ocean—a forbidden love between the two separate worlds that must never collide. Seo-Rae gets fixated when Hae-jun tells her that he is collapsing after solving the grizzly crime of another murder, which she has helped him do. Over the course of the movie, she has been helping him fall asleep and overcome his insomnia by solving these mystery crimes, without realizing that those are his lifelines and that’s what keeps him ‘alive’ (mentally). When her second husband is murdered by another man, Seo-Rae is suspected immediately by Hae-jun because he, too, believes she would go to any extent to help him out and that murder will solve everything. On the brink of getting Seo-Rae to confess to the husband’s murder, Hae-jun is hit by the truth: in fact, even though she didn’t actually kill the man, she brought him there when she knew his demise was near. Seo-Rae even cleaned up the blood for Hae-jun, who is repulsed by the sight of it, and in doing so, mishandled crucial evidence of the murder. Her goal in coming to Lipo is not just to meet Hae-jun and bring him a crime to solve but to pour out the ashes of her family, who originated from a mountain there. The movie begins with Seo-Rae at the top of a mountain, as she is the one who pushes her husband off to save herself, a forbidden thing for her to do. But in the end, she digs a hole in the sand by the ocean and ends up at the “bottom” of the ocean, where Hae-jun can never find her. As Hae-jun drives off to find Seo-rae using an app installed by her husband’s murderer, she confesses to him that her husband was going to use the voice note she had saved of him professing his love for her to broadcast them to the world. She conjured this entire plan, so Hae-jun would remain untouched. It is clear to see that Park Chan Wook is exploring the idea of how far one can go in order to prove their love for someone. Through the blurred lines between obsession and desire, we were not sure if Hae-jun and Seo-Rae did, in fact, love each other or were just infatuated by the mystery of their presence in each other’s lives, but with Seo-Rae’s “decision to leave” forever, it is clear that she, in fact, felt the deepest form of care and affection towards Hae-jun. Enough to end her life and leave him intact.

The Art Of Subtlety And Detail

Through cinematography, angles, and symbolism, director Park inspires an incredible narrative context that leaves everyone asking unique questions by the end of the film. While passion and desire can be shown in many ways on screen, Park’s choice of keeping the romance limited to subtle lingering gazes, small facial expressions, stolen touches, and conversations where the words “I love you” are never exchanged truly makes this movie a thrilling-romance that keeps you wanting the two to get a step closer each second. Seo-Rae’s double-colored dress, which appears green to some and blue to others, is also an ode to their coming together, blue being water (how Hae-jun sees Seo-Rae) and green representing the mountain. In the end, the dress is burnt, indicating that their relationship, too, will end up the same. Park also uses angles to give us a physical representation of the mental position a character is in to create the illusion of being in the same room as them or feeling the same way as them, causing us to root for them even if it may seem morally wrong. From the get-go, we are so invested in their coming together that, in the end, we are left in a dizzying state, just as Hae-jun is. The best kind of cinematic experience. It is easy to say a director is one of the best of the day, just because his movies are consumed by many viewers, but the art of making the characters the heroes of the film, where every inch of the movie is filled with detail, is what makes Park truly a master of his art. At the end of the day, “Decision to Leave” is a tragic forbidden love story, and that’s all that matters. 


“Decision to Leave” is a 2022 mystery thriller film directed by Park Chan Wook.

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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