Reminiscent of Hitchcock, the tone is seamless, the performances by Park Hae-il and Tang Wei are flawless, and the storytelling is addictively satisfying and engrossing. Perhaps no mystery crime film has been so exquisitely photographed while being so gracefully crafted. Decision to Leave is one of the year’s very best films.
We review the film Decision to Leave, which does not contain any significant spoilers.
Park Chan-wook’s film is a murder mystery romantic thriller about an ominous romance; it is an atmospheric masterpiece overflowing with obsession, jealousy, and loss of self-control. Decision to Leave is his transfixing metaphor for what it means to love without trust and trust without love. The final haunting scenes will live in your memory long after the final credits roll and the lights come on. This is Chan-wook’s best film while also being his most accessible.
Decision to Leave Review and Plot summary
Yes, the premise of Decision to Leave is nothing new. A man meets a woman, a woman meets a man, and guess what? Love hurts. However, in the romance, a detective falls for the widow of the death he is currently investigating. Det. Jang Hae-jun (an outstanding Park Hae-il) is the lead on the case. His team is looking into the death of a retired immigration worker. What makes the case strange is the man is found dead at the edge of a mountain cliff that is nearly impossible to climb. Everything about this case screams accidental death. However, Hae-jun cannot shake his gut feeling that something is wrong with the death. Or he cannot stop thinking of the prime suspect in ways other than criminal.
The main suspect in his murder investigation is Song Seo-rae (a deadly effective Tang Wei). She is the beautiful and much younger wife of the deceased. There is something just off about her. She has physical bruises and scratches. Seo-rae is almost cold and too composed about her husband’s death, but if it wasn’t a happy marriage, then why should she cry? One piece of evidence that could be telling is that she has a tattoo marked with her husband’s initials. Why is that strange? On the surface, it’s an expression of love that is commonplace. However, when you look closely, this is done in the same fashion as when someone marks their own property.
What writer/director Park Chan-wook does so well is taking every obvious cliche you have ever laid eyes upon in a crime or romance film, then has the characters react in various eye-opening and reactionary ways that are quite the opposite of what we have seen before. Not just for the viewer, but it’s just as fascinating watching the character experience something new that they are not used to or comfortable with — expressions of love and empathy. The gifted director is exploring not just attraction but the cynical way we approach more significant meanings or even love when it comes to relationships. The reaction you are expecting is never the behavior that unfolds on screen. All while layering this into a murder plot that is clever, fascinating, and constantly surprising.
The performances are extraordinary and devastatingly effective, never more than when the romantic tension rises and so much is said in the silences. Hae-il loses himself in a role of a lonely insomniac detective who lives away from his wife and sees her only once a week or two. Conversely, Wei’s Seo-rae does play the classic the devil comes dressed as a beautiful woman. Yet, her character is like an artichoke unveiling new, humorous, even kinky, and dark revelations, constantly confounding others, especially, Hae-jun, around her. The viewer cannot quite get a read on her. A survival tactic of consistently pivoting from a life of trauma. Both of them are a byproduct of the professional that has taken over their lives, leading to their lack of trust in people.
Besides the director’s skillful screenplay, Chan-wook remains a stunning auteur, bringing a sense of artistic resonance to a genre picture that is wholly original. Filmmaking is a visual medium and breathtaking visuals that transform a genre of films like crime or romantic into compelling pieces of art, from the astonishing initial overhead crime scene to the ominous dreamlike grandeur of revealing truth on top of a snowy cliff. Perhaps no mystery crime film has been so exquisitely photographed while being so gracefully crafted. And we haven’t even talked about that haunting finale.
Is the film Decision to Leave good?
How should I say this? Reminiscent of Hitchcock, the tone is seamless, the performances by Park Hae-il and Tang Wei are flawless, and the storytelling is addictively satisfying and engrossing. Park Chan-wook’s ability to elevate the “genre” film into remarkable art pieces is breathtaking. Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave is one of the finest films of 2022.
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