If you’re the kind of moviegoer who loves a dark romantic thriller, then Decision to Leave should 100% be added to your list of must-see films this year.
Decision to Leave is the latest work from acclaimed filmmaker Park Chan-wook — perhaps best known for his mind-blowing old boy (2003) and the most recent erotic thriller The Handmaiden (2016), which, for the record, was the last film he directed before this one.
Park’s latest film stars Tang Wei and Park Hae-il and explores the unraveling of a police detective who slowly falls for his suspect as he investigates her possible involvement in her husband’s death.
And, BTW, Decision to Leave was released in South Korea this summer and is currently that country’s entry for Best International Feature at the upcoming 95th Academy Awards. So, you know, this already has a lot of ~prestige~ buzz around it.
Now, if the story of a detective falling for his suspect sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s a pretty popular trope in movies. Whether it’s erotic thrillers like Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge or classic noir films like Vertigo and The Maltese Falcon, a cop falling for a femme fatale is a story we’ve seen many times before. And Park’s latest film follows in these famous footsteps.
Decision to Leave tells the story of Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), a detective at the top of his game who’s so increased in his work that he keeps an apartment in the city and only goes home to his wife on weekends. Heck, he even keeps a vision board of all the unsolved cases he’s had over the years in his apartment.
The mystery begins when Hae-joon and his young but eager partner begin to investigate the death of a man who fell from a mountaintop.
At first glance, most people would probably brush off the incident as an accident (he’d apparently been climbing the very steep mountain, after all).
However, once Hae-joon meets the dead man’s wife, Seo-rae (Tang), he starts to suspect her. She does strange things like laugh to herself while being interrogated…
…but he also begins to feel an attraction to her. In fact, one could easily jump to the conclusion that he’s hoping to impress her by doing things like treating her to an expensive sushi lunch — during the interrogation. 👀 👀 👀
What unfolds is a slow-burning mystery and romance that intends to have the audience questioning, alongside Hae-joon, whether Seo-rae was involved in her husband’s death or whether she’s an innocent victim herself.
Adding to the noir flavor of the film is the gorgeous cinematography by Kim Ji-yong. It’s beautifully shot and enhances the complicated, dark nature of the star-crossed lovers’ journey.
Now, if you’re familiar with Park’s more ~shocking~ work, like the aforementioned old boy and The Handmaidenbe prepared to find out that Decision to Leave doesn’t quite pack the same OMG punch as his previous titles.
While it’s still an engrossing tale, for a story that’s half mystery, there’s never really a sense of much mystery. much like in Basic Instinct (except without all the sex), it seems pretty obvious throughout the story that our femme fatale is exactly that…and that our hero is easily blinded, and ruined, by love.
By the end of the film, you won’t be left wondering what the truth is. Both the main mystery and one that evolves later are solved fairly easily. Instead, you’ll be left with a haunting image and end. And maybe that’s even better…if you’re into tragic romance.
Despite touches of noir, comedy, and murder, Decision to Leave is, at its core, a love story. It’s an exploration of how tragic it can be, and Park’s presentation of what loss can do to a person is a truly intriguing ride. It’s a slow but subtle, elegant, and worthwhile watch.