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Decision To Leave ★★★



Director: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il

ReleaseOctober 14th, 2022 (UK)

Starring Tang Wei and Park Hae-il, Decision to Leave is the latest film from Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook and his first film in six years. A murder-mystery romance, the film follows cop Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) as he investigates the mysterious death of a rock climber. The indifferent nature of the victim’s wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), quickly makes her the prime suspect, but as Hae-jun investigates her, an obsessive relationship begins to develop.

With its themes of impossible relationships, secretive protagonists and moral dilemmas amid a mysterious narrative, Decision to Leave is quintessential Park Chan-Wook. It presents itself as a noir with a modern, Korean twist – there is a constant veil of fog that hints at the enigma of the narrative, and an unassuming femme fatale in Seo-rae, who is quick to draw the attention of Hae-jun, a workaholic cop in a strained marriage. Combined with the overly inquisitive or judgemental subordinates and a trail of digital clues that need to be put together and Decision to Leave becomes an unlikely whodunnit with a romantic twang.

From the outset, Hae-jun is looking for something more. His dedication to his job essentially sees him live to work to combat his insomnia while acting as a ‘weekend husband’ to his high-flying wife. But this isn’t to say that he isn’t good at his job – he just seeks a challenge…enter Seo-rae, a doe-eyed, bashful Chinese woman who claims her Korean is ‘insufficient’, despite her evident fluency. Upon the death of her much older husband, she doesn’t dwell in widowhood for long and is quick to resume life as normal. Her role as a caregiver makes her a saint in the eyes of most people but the complexities driving the plot cast doubt on her innocence, especially as Hae-jun becomes increasingly intrigued with her. 

This uneasiness is exacerbated by the growing chemistry between its protagonists. With one drawing to the other through emotional support or just plain curiosity, the crime that connects them doesn’t seem to deter their mutual attraction. Hae-jun knows his position yet continues to pursue this young woman, who sees his initial intrusive behaviour as a good man who ‘is keeping an eye on her’. This tension slowly turns into meals and tender (occasionally translated) conversations, causing the film to verge towards a progressively melodramatic romance. 

Unfortunately, the budding relationship between Hae-jun and Seo-rae slowly corrodes the initial curiosity created by the murder mystery. The numerous twists and turns behind the truth become overwhelmed by their growing intimacy, despite Park dropping the odd yet blatant reminder that there is a crime that needs to be solved, not to mention other plot elements such as abusive relationships and life as an immigrant that are left underdeveloped. Add to this an extra albeit superfluous chapter in the protagonists’ relationship that unnecessarily stretches out the narrative to accommodate a 138-minute runtime.

Nonetheless, the performances of its leads keep Decision to Leave’s mystique. Chinese actress Tang Wei provides a multi-layered performance that delivers nuance and subtlety while raising the bar by memorising and delivering most of her dialogue in Korean. Meanwhile, Park Hae-il captivatingly exudes the turmoil of his character’s dilemma through his expressiveness and controlled physicality.

After a six-year break, Park reminds audiences of his mastery as a filmmaker. He cleverly uses comparative visuals through mirror reflections and recorded interviews, as well as noticeable clues, to accompany his cryptic screenplay. Along with Kim Ji-yong’s cinematography (which includes some stunning overhead shots), Park not only aesthetically creates the illusion that not everything is as it seems, but the truth is consistently out of reach of the audience’s grasp.

Upon the film’s devastating conclusion, there is an endless, unwavering web of intrigue woven by Decision to Leave that unfortunately fails to entrap the audience’s attention. While it doesn’t reach the boldness of Oldboy or The Handmaiden, the alluring visuals and devastating performances drive Park’s beautiful vision.

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