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Love, from the murderous, the forbidden to the cybernetic

“Decision To Leave” (2022)
Investigating the death of a man, detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) monitors the primary suspect Seo-rae (Tang Wei) in what could be a black widow case. Seo-rae’s beauty seduces Hae-jun through her seeming compassion for him, putting him in a stupor as the detective is in a committed but loveless marriage. Apart from the possible manipulation at play, Seo-rae is the most beguiling aspect of the film portrayed to be caregiving, but also contains a side of herself that has an intense desire to be the subject of voyeuristic love and scrutiny. The two’s love is intricate as it is convoluted — sensual but chaste, going beyond words and residing in gazes — and it is best imagined as a cat and mouse chase. It’s a knotty and fetishistic noose that director Park Chan Wook constructs by reworking the fatal attraction trope into what is his most fascinating approach to sexuality.

“Her” (2013)
The near future of “Her” has grown closer each year since its release in 2013. For now, the story of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who falls in love with the sentient artificial intelligence (AI) operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johnansson), remains largely science fiction. Their connection is expressed in complex ways, from Samantha composing a piano piece as a symbol for their love to a complicated surrogate-virtual sex scene, concerning a material and immaterial being, knows no bounds. The result is tough and tender, reflecting on how the need for connection may transcend flesh and blood, displaying how humans find solace in technology while recognizing the limitations of such connections.

“Two in the Shadow” (1967)
The heart wants what the heart wants in Mikio Naruse’s final film. Shiro (Yūzō Kayama) accidentally kills Ayako’s (Mitsuko Kusabue) husband in a fatal car accident. Guilt-ridden and in an act of self-retribution, Shiro delivers the widow monthly payments that he isn’t legally obliged to pay. As much as they are repelled by the idea, the two meet more and more and realize their feelings for another. The time spent together, which begins as transactional and steely, naturalizes into something deeply affectionate yet never quite free of the past. The impossible situation that binds and haunts man and woman is dubious to say the least. Beneath the melodrama exterior is a stinging depiction of forbidden love, imposed more by the individual, not society, and an understanding of second chances.

“Phantom Thread” (2017)
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) has neurosis; it makes him a master of his haute couture craft, but it also shrivels him into a dreadful partner in any relationship. So, when Alma (Vicky Krieps) becomes the tailor’s muse and lover, she soon falls under the mercy of his domineering and unspoken threat of being outed from his fashion house. However, Alma is strong-willed and, more than anybody, seems to know the complicated man best. With this pushback, “Phantom Thread” slowly ripens into a tale of codependent love where the dependency and roles of dominance are willingly given up and accepted. And by centering these gambits around ornate dresses and bucolic settings, the barbed remarks and power plays become strangely bewitching.

“Badlands” (1973)
Like “Bonnie and Clyde” before it and countless films after it, “Badlands” concerns lovers on the run. Kit (Martin Sheen) is 26, a war veteran who echoes James Dean not just in looks, but in identity, grappling with social estrangement. Holly (Sissy Spacek) is 15 and a conventional American teenager and, through voice-over, looks back at her time with Kit. Together, the two roam the barren outskirts of Montana without purpose and without a destination in mind. It’s here that Kit begins a killing spree, in cold blood and seemingly originating from nowhere. Less interested in narrative and more in the evocation of feeling, director Terrance Malick tells a strangely divine, unmistakably American story where everything from nature, violence and romance must run its course.

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