Outside of the United States, foreign films, especially as of late, Korean films, for their complexities are told rather simplistically. Narratives are spun delicately with an emphasis on story prioritized before anything else. There’s an inherent beauty that fills up every frame with technical fascination enriching each scene, character interaction and plot transition that keeps the film moving forward. Despite the language barrier, films outside of the domestic nature are still told with the same patience, tenderness, care and humanity that we’re used to. For a director of the caliber of Park Chan-wook, and his newest film Decision to Leave, the director’s ability to fully engross you in his well plotted narrative is on full display, making Decision to Leave a captivating experience one has to witness for themselves.
As a murder mystery, the basic premise as to not give too much away revolves around detective Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) investigating a mysterious death of an experienced retired mountain climber found dead at the base of the peak. Hae-jun and his partner Soo-wan (Go Kyung-pyo) are investigating the widow Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei) for a number of potentially incriminating reasons. From the moment of their first interaction, Hae-jun and Seo-rae become involved in a deeply complicated yet fascinating romantic relationship that never once stops unfolding more layers.
Technically, Decision to Leave is as meticulous as they come. Detail pours off the screen, and more is packed into each frame as the romance between the Hae-jun and Seo-rae blossoms into a spider-web of intricates. Park Chan-wook is fully in control of his film that he also co-wrote alongside Jeong Seo-kyeong – a romance and mystery that comes out of left field to question every little thing a person may do or say. As for the screenplay itself, the narrative latches on to the viewer, keeping the attention solely on the two lead characters. An untimely blink of the eyes and a key moment could be missed only to glue yourself to the screen, hanging on every single word to look for clues into what can happen next.
Early on in the film, the level of greatness Park Chan-wook brings to his film from all technical aspects is magnificent. From the shot selection, to the color palette to the subtleties in how the characters react all have a feeling as if the narrative is happening in real time. Like Park Chan-wook found a random dead body and started filming. The director invites us into his brilliance for capturing human nature and how unpredictably complex humans are. Once a feeling for where the story may go or if there is a potential killer, Park Chan-wook creates magic subverting the expectation of what will happen next.
2019’s Parasite and last years Drive My Car left an endearing impression from two outstanding filmmakers, came out of nowhere only to have both films change how we view films of their complexities surrounding the human condition. Decision to Leave is but another remarkable example of a film crafted by a master technician, truly making the film an experience that will stay with you as a viewer. Certain directors no matter what they give us, we can rely on their expertise and vison to tell a complete story full of a wide range of emotions.
Set against a backdrop of both Busan and Ipo, the backdrop for Chan-wook’s film is gorgeous – both landscapes of the sea and the mountain regions are presented like paintings. With cinematography by Kim Ji-yong, the duo translate the beauty of South Korea. Park Chan-wook knows exactly when tension between Hae-sun and Seo-rae should be dialed up juxtaposed to when the lust between the two is the focus.
As the leads, Tang Wei and Park Hae-il have fascinating yet frustrating chemistry together. Love and lust are near impossible to overcome even with a murder investigation serving as the only reason these two characters meet in the first place. However, its Tang Wei and her subtly yet explosive expressions that will mesmerizing viewers. You never know what the character will do or say next, she’s equal parts an enigma and comforting and Tang Wei’s powerful performance will almost eclipse all others in the supporting cast including the other lead Park Hae-il. With the mystery spinning deeper, the two become more complicated, falling in love with one another to depending on each other to keep moving on. Park Chan-wook finds a perfect balance for the two’s obsession with finding the truth and with finding each other.
Decision to Leave is the type of film that won’t be soon forgotten. Full of twists and turns, tension and romance, Park Chan-wook has total control of this technical masterpiece. Paced evenly over the 139-minute runtime, Decision to Leave is a perfect balance between style and substance, obsession, love and lust. It’s an endearing romance and mystery film that is a technical masterpiece, anchored by a strong narrative and impactful two lead performances.
Screenplay By: Jeong Seo-kyeong & Park Chan-wook
Directed By: Park Chan-wook
Music By: Jo Yeong-wook
Cinematography: Kim Ji-yong
Starring: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, Park Yong-woo, Kim Shin-young, Jung Yi-seo, Jung Young-Sook
Where to Watch: Mubi
Original Language: Korean
Release Date: June 29, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 18 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%