Decision to Leave

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

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In “Decision to Leave” – the new romantic mystery by South Korea’s Park Chan-wook – we meet Jang Hae-Jun, an insomniac policeman who is investigating the death of a retired immigration worker. Did the man fall off the steep mountain … or was he pushed?

Hae-Jun and his partner come to suspect the victim’s wife, Song Seo-Rae. After all, she shows little grief over the loss of her husband. And she displays bruises and a possessive tattoo.

While staking out Seo-Rae’s apartment at night, sleep-deprived Hae-Jun finds himself becoming obsessed with the beautiful Chinese woman.

You may detect resonance with that 1981 Burt Reynolds-Rachel Ward film, “Sharkey’s Machine.” Or “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Or Sam Spade confronting Brigid O’Shaughnessy in “The Maltese Falcon”? Maybe even a touch of Masumura’s “A Wife Confesses.” And, obviously, Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

Obsessive love from afar.

Park Hae-il does well as the insomniac cop and Tang Wei is perfect as the seductive suspect.

Was Park Chan-wook influenced by these films? No, he says, attributing his inspiration to a series of Swedish crime novels, “The Story of a Crime” by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. And to a Korean love song “Angae” (“Mist”).

Park’s films (“Oldboy,” “The Handmaiden”) are known for “shocking violence, the eccentric portrayal of love, and complex narratives that employ surprising twists.”
“Decision to Leave” follows that pattern: The discovery of a suicide letter seems to clears Seo-Rae.

So, despite having a perfectly good wife in another city, Hae-Jun begins seeing the widow. But new evidence makes him again question her innocence, so he walks away.

Much later, he bumps into her while visiting the fish market with his wife. Seo-Rae is with her new husband, who mysteriously dies the very next day. Is she guilty?

That’s the fate of Hae-Jun, never quite sure of Seo-Rae’s guilt or love. “A walking enigma,” one moviegoer calls her.

It’s enough to keep anyone awake.

“Decision to Leave” won Park Chan-wook Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. And it’s sure to be nominated for an Academy Award or two. Also, it was named one of the top 5 international films of 2022 by the National Board of Review.

The Hollywood reporter praised the film’s “multilayered plots that continue to deliver surprises right up until the end.”

One viewer remarked on the film’s themes of “desire, regret, and love.”

Another called it “a slow-burn romantic thriller.”

With its themes of death and deception, I would call it an Asian neo-noir.

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