Park Chan-wook conjures up a compelling tale of murder, betrayal, and eccentric romance

Decision to Leave Review

Decision to Leave is now in theaters.

It’s a pretty neat trick for a director to lure you into his story under the guise of a murder mystery and then reveal he’s actually been laying the groundwork for an exquisite love story the whole time. With Decision to Leave, director Park Chan-wook is arguably at his most playful and romantic, artfully unspooling the story of a potential Black Widow being chased by a dogged but empathetic detective whose fascination for one another grows into something profound.
The film opens with detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) stuck in a rut. As a city detective, he drives hours to see his wife of 16 years on the weekend because their jobs keep them apart during the week. They’re childless and content with one another but he’s clearly going through the motions. He’s much more engaged by his job and is assigned to get to the bottom of what happened to an experienced older rock climber (Park Yong-woo) found dead at the base of an overlook. Hae-joon finds the man’s much younger wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), to be rather unemotional about her husband’s death, which spurs him to tail her throughout the day, observing her act as a caregiver to a roster of senior citizen clients.
Shaped in the mold of a Hitchcockian femme fatale but without the slick exterior, Seo-rae’s an enigma, seemingly empathetic to her clients, but emotionless when she’s called in for questioning by Hae-joon. Increasingly intrigued by her, he finds himself obsessing more and more with figuring out how, and why, she may have orchestrated the death of her husband. And she’s just as compelled by his interest. Aware of how they’re orbiting one another, she invites him into her home where they observe one another more closely and eventually share the stories of their lives.
Because a large portion of the story is a psychological thriller, Decision to Leave is talky by necessity but Chan-wook uses a multitude of engaging techniques to keep the visuals surprising and kinetic. From a bonkers Steadicam foot race between Hae-joon and a theft suspect, to the skillful use of transitions when he’s staking out her home, or the slick use of on-screen text messaging between characters, there’s subtle but constant movement. But Chan-wook also knows when, and how, to build the intimacy between Hae-joon and Seo-rae in long scenes where they just talk and gently reveal their complex layers to one another. They're also supported well by an ensemble of quirky character actors who add a tremendous amount of rich texture. From Hae-joon’s concerned wife to his junior detective partner, who operates in the field like he’s in an action movie of one, they flesh out the world and make it feel real and lived-in.
And just when you think the story has revealed itself, Chan-wook introduces a turn that reframes everything we think we know about the characters and then puts them on a new path that carries the film into unexpected territory. The change only amps up the longing and star-crossed unpinning to Hae-joon and Seo-rae’s unconventional connection. Park Hae-il and Tang Wei conjure major In the Mood for Love energy that’s just as riveting and swoony.
Decision to Leave is Park Chan-wook’s unabashed ode to Hitchcock and Wong Kar-wai.
The only misstep of the whole movie comes in the last minutes as Chan-wook oddly allows the ending to swing into melodramatic territory, which clangs against everything that’s come before. Perhaps he saw it as the earned moment to open the emotional valves, considering how well he modulated such measured restraint throughout. How it lands overall with audiences is going to come down to personal taste, but for me it was the only place where “less is more” came to mind. However, it doesn’t temper how confident, memorable, and eloquent Decision to Leave is.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Tara Bennett

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