Park Chan-wook’s latest film “Decision to Leave”, which won the Best Director Award when it was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in last month, is often enthralling thanks to its masterful storytelling coupled with a distinctive sense of twisted humor. While it initially seems to be your average film noir mystery tale on the surface, the movie delves deeper into its two different characters than expected as they are doing a sort of morbid romantic dance along the story, and it is really satisfying to observe how it eventually pulls out a neatly sublime ending from its increasingly complex narrative.
The movie opens with the police investigation of a seemingly simple case. A middle-aged man died due to falling from a high rocky summit, and this incident seems to be a merely unfortunate climbing accident, but Hae-jun (Park Hae-il), a detective assigned to the case, comes to have some doubt after examining the scene for a while. Although there is not anything definite enough to prove his suspicion, he begins to suspect Seo-rae (Tang Wei), a young and beautiful Korean Chinese woman who is incidentally the wife of that dead man.
When she comes to see the body of her husband, Seo-rae does not express much shock or sadness, and it also turns out later that she has a possible motive behind her back. Quite determined to get anything to incriminate her, Hae-jun begins to spy on Seo-rae, and, what do you know, he cannot help but attracted to her alluring elusiveness. At one point, the movie gives an amusingly voyeuristic moment as he imagines himself closely watching Seo-rae in her little apartment, and this moment effectively conveys to us how he becomes more obsessed with her day by day.
Of course, it does not take much time for Seo-rae to notice Hae-jun’s steady surveillance on her. She catches him off guard as gradually approaching to him, and Hae-jun cannot possibly say no to her like those flawed heroes of many other film noir flicks. As shown from the early part of the film, he has a fairly good wife who has no problem with his busy police work as she is also busy with her own job, but he lets himself more associated with Seo-rae against his better judgement. He ends up revealing more of himself to her, and there is a little humorous scene where Seo-rae give him a bit of insight on one of his several unsolved cases.
Around that point, the screenplay written by Park and his co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong becomes a lot more interesting. Although the movie will not surprise you as much as, say, Park’s fellow filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” (2019), I will let you appreciate a series of delicious narrative turns for yourself, and I can tell you instead that you will probably need to pay extra attention to the plot development. As it changes its direction a little too often in my humble opinion, some of its story elements are presented so suddenly that it may take some time for you to gather how everything in the story logically fits together.
Nevertheless, the movie still holds our attention under Park’s dexterous handling of mood and details. Like many of his previous films including “The Handmaiden” (2016), the movie is commendable in its technical aspects, and Park’s crew members including cinematographer Kim Ji-young and editor Kim Sang-bum certainly deserve to be praised for their top-notch efforts. Every shot in the film is handled with considerable precision and consideration, and I particularly enjoy how the camera confidently moves around Hae-jun and a certain desperate criminal figure while never drawing attention to itself.
Above all, we come to care about what will happen next while more emotionally involvedly in what is going on between its two main characters. While we are often not so sure about what they exactly feel and think, we are drawn more to their complicated emotional interactions nonetheless, and we are alternatively touched and amused as they pull or push each other along the story.
Everything in the film depends a lot on the fascinating chemistry between its two lead performers, who ably complement each other via their different acting styles. While Park Hae-il, who has been known for several notable South Korean films including “The Host” (2006) and “War of the Arrows” (2011), diligently holds the ground as demanded, Tang Wei, who has been more notable since her breakthrough turn in Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution” (2007), is simply superlative in her playfully ambiguous performance, and, as a South Korean audience, I willingly assure you that she handles her Korean lines as well as demanded by her role. With her unaffected foreign accent, she makes an entertaining contrast with Park’s deliberately stilted line delivery, and this contributes extra tension to several key scenes of theirs.
In case of several supporting characters of the film, they hold each own place well around the two lead performers. While Go Kyung-pyo and Kim Shin-young are colorful as two different cops working under Hae-jun, Park Yong-woo and Park Jeong-min are also effective in their respective brief appearances, and Lee Jung-hyun brings some life and personality to her functional character.
On the whole, “Decision to Leave” is another masterwork from Park, who has never disappointed me and many other audiences since his third feature film “Joint Security Area” (2000). I must confess that I do not think I understand everything in the film after I watched it at last night, but I was entertained a lot as gladly devouring those superb cinematic moments in the movie, and I am willing to watch it again soon for appreciating more of what Park and his cast and crew members achieve here. In short, this is one of the major highlights of this year, and I urge you to check it out as soon as possible.