They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but what's unclear is how to foster that yearning should we leave the ones we love. Is it better to bow out gracefully, to find a noble reason to leave, or is it better to disappear without a trace, entrapping our loved ones in a labyrinth of unanswered questions and permanently burrowing under their skin? It's this mirrored experience of death and love, of violence and crimes of the heart, that construct the enthralling walls of epic romance noir 'Decision to Leave', an instant classic that firmly belongs in the upper echelon of Park Chan-wook's filmography.
Hae-jun (Park Hae-il, 'High Society') is a highly-strung, highly methodical detective whose penchant for solving grisly crimes has left him an insomniac. Make no mistake; even though the frenetic opening moments of the film might make his life appear fast-paced and exciting (think Nicholas Angel from 'Hot Fuzz', only much more stylish), but from his insomnia to living hours away from his wife, it's clear that the job is tearing him apart physically and emotionally. He needs a new reason to keep going. Hae-jun soon finds himself tasked with investigating the strange death of a wealthy hiker who appears to have accidentally fallen off a mountain, and into his orbit steps the not-so-devastated widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei, 'Long Day's Journey into Night'), the prime suspect in her husband's death. She's a delicate, beautiful aged-care worker who seems barely capable of the strength to fight back against the bruises her husband has given her, let alone push him off the mountain. Something definitely doesn't add up here, yet Hae-jun can't quite seem to stop thinking about Seo-rae, even after she leaves the police precinct's interrogation room – a feeling Seo-rae appears to reciprocate.
'DECISION TO LEAVE' TRAILER
Even if the premise sounds dire, 'Decision to Leave' is saturated with dark humour, particularly in the off-kilter nature of Seo-rae and Hae-jun's blossoming romance; eating expensive post-police interrogation sushi together is hardly an ideal first date. We see the spotlessly-edited world of the film through Hae-jun's eyes as his surveillance of Seo-rae for his investigation goes from professional to downright obsessive. She doesn't realise he is fantasising about living these moments with her; he doesn't know that she wants him in those moments. The irony that permeates every moment they have together – he knows she could be a murderer, she knows he is trying to pin her down (literally and figuratively) – only adds to the chemistry, a new breed of forbidden love that not only has some of the most swoon-worthy dialogue I have ever heard, but is also impossible to look away from. Park's already heady screenplay, co-written with frequent collaborator Jeong Seo-kyeong ('The Handmaiden'), has absolutely nothing on the chemistry between Park Hae-il and Tang Wei, both of whom give absolutely splendid performances. Additionally, Park's frequent composer Jo Yeong wook ('The Handmaiden') assists in the soaring tension with his overblown, melodramatic score, its constant castanet clicks supercharging the sensual mind game tango that Seo-rae and Hae-jun dance. They have met their match in each other, and it's never clear who will come out second best.
It's a bad year for pretty much every other director when Park Chan-wook releases a new film, because his films puts his peers to complete shame.
It's a bad year for pretty much every other director when Park Chan-wook releases a new film, because his films puts his peers to complete shame. Anyone remotely familiar with Park knows he loves a twist or two, and 'Decision to Leave' is no different. The story is packed with far more detail than other directors would even bother with; in fact, the film's initial premise finds its endpoint roughly halfway through the film. This results in a complex web that never shows its hand until the absolute final moments of the film – a move which, depending on how willing audiences are to buy in, might be to its detriment. In a movie-going climate where many audiences are accustomed to being spoon-fed, it would make complete sense if 'Decision to Leave's' marriage of ambiguity and melodrama starts to grate across a 138-minute runtime.
Even if it's not quite his best work, 'Decision to Leave' is a true testament to Park Chan-wook's concrete-solid status as one of the best filmmakers of our time. It's an enthralling ride that, simply put, I never wanted to get off.