‘Decision to Leave’ – Review

The film serves to show how modern life has changed how we process loss, whether it be the loss of life or a relationship. Decision to Leave plays as a haunting portrait of a man who risks everything for the possibility of love. 

On its surface, Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave is a police procedural and a romance film following Detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), investigating the death of a man who appears to have slipped off a mountain. Hae-joon suspects the victim’s wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), might have had something to do with her husband’s untimely death. Like all of Park’s films, Decision to Leave is not what it appears; the film is much more intricate than a simple romance or detective film. Decision to Leave is strangely funny, yet a perfect detective mystery and romance film; Park effortlessly combines all these elements into a visual feast that demands repeat viewings. 

Decision to Leave stresses the longing that Detective Hae-joon feels for his possible suspect Seo-rae, despite him being married. The two express smoldering chemistry you can feel through the screen in this dark, twisted love story. The more Hae-joon learns about Seo-rae, the more enigmatic she becomes, which keeps the audience continually questioning what is unfolding on screen. Decision to Leave could have been framed as a whodunnit, yet Park, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeong Seo-kyeong, focuses the film as an exploration of desire and passion. While there is a murder investigation at the center of the film, the true focal point of the film is the love story and inhibited desire between Hae-joon and Seo-rae. The story allows a balance of each perspective of our leads, which strikingly allows the police procedural and romance themes to unfold in natural, exciting ways. 

The direction, screenplay and chemistry between Tang and Park immediately allow us to not only see how naturally the two interact and move around one another but also how instant their connection is. Whether sharing a quiet lunch (sushi I’ll be thinking about weeks) or how effortlessly they clean up a table together as if they’d been partners for years, the film starts immediately setting palpable tension between Hae-joon and Seo-rae. Tang and Park give stunning performances that the audience can feel the passion and longing aching to break out from underneath their stolen glances at one another.

Decision to Leave shifts focus in the second half and adds even more layers to the twisted story, yet it never feels as if the story is spiraling out of control. Park exercises consistent control over the film with a firm, but soft hand guiding the audience through every turn in the story as it beautifully unfolds on screen. The visual style from Park is brought to new heights with stunning cinematography from Kim Ji-yong. Kim brings such flair to unsuspecting settings from an interrogation room to the kitchen to the mountaintops. The beautiful cinematography is complimented by such powerful editing from Kim Sang-beom. With feverish transitions and relentless pacing as the twists are presented, the editing transports the audience into the story for the most exquisite viewing experience.

Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave is all about varying perceptions; which angle of the story you believe is the truth greatly depends on which character’s perspective you’re watching. While Hae-joon desperately tries to learn about Seo-rae, it feels the closer he gets to her, the more questions he has. The film serves to show how modern life has changed how we process loss, whether it be the loss of life or a relationship. Decision to Leave plays as a haunting portrait of a man who risks everything for the possibility of love. While love is always a risk, no matter the circumstances, Decision to Leave‘s central relationship is full of hardships; the end result is a beautiful, yet tragic depiction of what one will do for love, what values we will sacrifice, what boundaries we will cross.

Grade: A

Oscars Prospects:
Likely: Best International Feature, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay
Should be Considered: Lead Actress, Lead Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

Where to Watch: In Select Theaters

Kenzie Vanunu
she/her @kenzvanunu
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
Sign: Capricorn

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