Discussion Group: Language and Imagery in Contemporary Korean Cinema

Decision to Leave (2022) by Park Chan-Wook is a neo-noir romantic mystery film about how a detective and a foreigner, who is under suspicion for the murder of her husband, meet and part ways. With this new film, Park, the director of Old Boy (2003), Lady Vengeance (2005), Thirst (2009), Stoker (2013) and The Handmaiden (2016), won Best Director for the Palme d'Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. This rather sedate—violence and nudity are reduced to the minimum in comparison to Park's previous works—but still powerful film has formed a certain fandom in Korea: it is estimated that many people watched this film multiple times in the cinema since its release. This level of fandom has given rise to an interesting phenomenon. Soon after its publication, the original script book of this film was ranked No. 1 Bestseller for three weeks in the country, which points to the literary character of the film—it is very rich in terms of the use of languages, so that viewers are eager to read the original text after watching the film.

What was of interest for this session is that translation is not only thematized in the film itself for there is a language barrier between the two protagonists, but also plays an important role for viewers who watch this film with the English subtitles, without knowing Korean. Since the intermingling of languages and imagery intensifies the poetic dimension of Decision to Leave, this session attempted to contribute to a better understanding of this beautifully hazy film by shedding light on the close interaction between linguistic and visual expression.


Haneul Lee is an academic visitor at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford. She studied Politics as well as German and Korean Literature as an undergraduate student at Yonsei University in Seoul, where she also earned an MSt in German Literature. Her PhD work, funded by a Korean government scholarship and an Ursula Lachnit-Fixson scholarship, was completed at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg (Germany) in 2022. It investigates images in Walter Benjamin’s reading of Kafka by focusing on the connection between literary and visual images in Benjamin’s texts, including both images of Kafkaesque figures and paintings, photos, and films. Her dissertation “Die Bildwelt in Walter Benjamins Kafka-Lektüre” (The Image World in Walter Benjamin’s Kafka-Reading) will be published in 2023 by Fink Verlag. Her research interests are in modern German literature with a focus on the Modernist period, the literature of exile, comparative literature, cultural theory, aesthetics, and visual culture. She has been researching at Oxford University as an academic visitor since September 2022, preparing a project about the reception of Kafka in Korea for the Kafka Global 2024 in Oxford.