Is ‘Decision to Leave’ Park Chan-wook’s Oscars ticket?

In 2003, Park Chan-wook made his name as a writer and director with his film Oldboy, a movie that took American audiences and film classes by storm. Oldboy follows a man who was held captive for 15 years only to escape and have just 5 days to find his captor. The film was so good that now Oscar-winning, then Oscar-nominated Spike Lee even directed a remake of it in 2013 (because everyone knows that all tremendous non-American films have to have an American remake). However, even though the movie was a critical success, winning the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, it wasn’t submitted by South Korea for Oscars consideration as South Korea opted for Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, which did not receive a nomination.

Chan-wook had some smaller hits here and there following Oldboy, but nothing that connected on a massive global level until his 2016 film The Handmaiden. In The Handmaiden, a woman who was hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress has a secret plan to defraud her. Again, Chan-wook received recognition on a massive scale, even picking up his biggest nomination and win to date when he won the BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language. However, when it came to the Oscars, South Korea passed up Chan-wook for The Age of Shadows, which failed to make the shortlist.

While South Korea might be home to the first International Feature that won the coveted Best Picture award (Parasite), it wasn’t until that monumental awards season that a South Korean film even received a nomination for International Feature. The closest the country had come before was in the form of Lee Chang-dong’s Burning which was shortlisted a year before Parasite eventually won. Even though there has been some recent success, the country is still trying to make a name for itself on an Oscars level. Park Chan-wook’s newest film, Decision to Leave, is in a prime position to not only receive an International Feature nomination but also pick up even more including Park Chan-wook’s first Oscar nomination of his career.

Decision to Leave is currently the second-highest-regarded film from the prolific writer/director, based on the Rotten Tomatoes score, second only to The Handmaiden. Here at Oscars Central, we gave the film an impressive “A” rating with writer Kenzie Vanunu saying: “…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.”

Over the past few years, we have seen the Academy begin to shift to a broader sense of what the Oscars represent. As mentioned above, Parasite was the first International Feature to win Best Picture, but that isn’t the only win. In 2019, Alfonso Cuarón won Best Director for Roma, which wasn’t too surprising given the film’s trajectory, and the fact that Cuarón is a previous winner (for Gravity) didn’t hurt either. However, Paweł Pawlikowski receiving a nomination for Best Director for his film Cold War was truly shocking. Cold War was going up against a behemoth in Roma in the International Feature category, but it was assumed that Bradley Cooper, who had recently been double nominated at the Director’s Guild of America Awards, would round out the Best Director nominees. However, it was Pawlikowski, who had never been nominated nor received any precursor for his film, who eventually received the nomination.

The following year, of course, was the year of Parasite. Before this film, writer/director Bong Joon-ho had never been nominated before, continuing the path of international directors breaking into the Best Director race for the first time. These nominations and eventual wins made sense however given the fact that Parasite was a major player in the Oscars race all year, but it was the following year that really started to make people think. In 2021, the pattern remained as Thomas Vinterberg picked up an absolutely shocking nomination nomination for his film Another Round, which would go on to win Best International Feature. It was assumed that Aaron Sorkin, who had just received his first DGA Feature nomination, would break into the field, but Vinterberg swooped in and took that final spot. Most recently, in 2022, people began to catch on to the pattern and predicted Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, the director of the International front-runner and eventual winner Drive my Car, to land a Best Director nomination. Hamaguchi ended up garnering a Best Director nomination, as well as a Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Drive my Car.

What does all of this mean for Park Chan-wook this year? He has already managed to pick up a win for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, which might not be the best precursor for a Director nomination, but it was the first major win that Pawlikowski picked up on his way to the Oscars. The film is being distributed by the streaming service MUBI, and there is cause for concern given the lack of awards history from the distributor. However, there appears to be a clear understanding of what they have and a push for the movie and Chan-wook is being done. In 2022, Drive My Car was distributed by Janus Films, an equally small distribution company, and managed to garner 4 nominations.

If MUBI plays its cards right, Decision to Leave could find itself in contention not only for International Feature, but in Director, Original Screenplay, Picture, and even more. On its best day, this film could earn Park Chan-wook three nominations in the Director, Screenplay, and Picture categories. (The International Feature nomination actually goes to the country, not the filmmaker.) This is not limiting Decision to Leave to these few categories either, as, according to Kenzie Vanunu in her review, it should be in contention for Lead Actress, Lead Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Original Score as well.

The one massive deterrent to Chan-wook’s case is the International field being stronger as a whole than it has been in years. Currently, I am projecting Decision to Leave to win the Best International Feature award, but the competition will be tight. First, two-time Best Director winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths could make a strong case in the race. Backed by Netflix, Iñárritu has the resume and name recognition to really make a splash, and even if the film opened to less-than-stellar reviews, apparently the new cut, which shed 22 minutes off the film, is a much more digestible version.

Netflix isn’t done there as All Quiet on the Western Front, which opened to rave reviews, could also make a name for itself in this year’s Oscars race. The German remake of the former Best Picture winner is being heralded as a technical marvel and, if pushed correctly, could wind up being one of the most nominated films given the abundance of above and below-the-line nominations it could get. The fact that writer/director Edward Berger would also be a first-time international nominee helps his case in terms of the pattern and directly challenges Chan-wook. When it comes to this, Kenzie Vanunu predicts the film could likely gather nominations for International Feature, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Cinematography, and Original Score, and states that it should be considered for Picture, Lead Actor (Felix Kammerer), Supporting Actor (Albrecht Schuch). Of course, there are a plethora of impressive technical movies that have and will be coming out this year, and the fact that Netflix also has Bardo could hurt its chances, but All Quiet on the Western Front could be the biggest challenger to Decision to Leave this awards season.

No matter what, it looks as though we are in for a fun and exciting race this awards season. Park Chan-wook has already made his name as a filmmaker and it is about time we recognize him on film’s biggest stage. Hopefully, he can take the success he has already found and build on that all the way to Dolby Theater next March.

Watch ‘Decision to Leave’ in theaters now!

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