Director Park Chan-wook has finally graced us with yet another alluring and riveting film. It’s been six years since The Handmaiden, and Park has taken his time with this latest feature, Decision to Leave. The film centers around Busan detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) and his latest case, the death of a hiker who had seemingly fallen (or been pushed?) off of a strangely shaped cliff. It’s up to Hae-jun to get to the bottom of it, starting with the man’s Chinese-born wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei). Hae-jun’s impressive but incredibly obsessive investigative skills lead him down a path neither the character nor the audiences expect.
Park Chan-wook was in attendance for the film screening at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Before the film, the director said it was his funniest film yet. He also hoped the audience would feel comfortable enough to laugh at the parts they thought were funny, even if there were scenes that may have been deemed inappropriate.
Decision to Leave is indeed Park’s funniest film. The level of absurdity and deadpan line delivery in some of the most self-serious or tragic circumstances in his films provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. However, despite the amount of humor in the movie, it’s also a deeply tragic story. One that leaves you with an overwhelming feeling of melancholy and loss by the time the credits begin to roll.
The nearly two-and-a-half-hour film is filled with intrigue and doesn’t all surround the investigation. Instead, the intrigue carries over through a year-long period, with an intense focus on Hae-jun and Seo-rae. From detective and suspect to kindred spirits, the film covers a whole lot of ground throughout one relationship. The most impressive part of Decision to Leave is how it never feels like it stagnates or slows down. Quite the opposite, as the film only ratchets up the tension and build-up of the relationship between the two leads.
The relationship between the two leads feels like something out of a Hitchcock film. Park Hae-il as Hae-jun feels like someone straight out of a 40s noir film thrust into the modern era. From his facial expressions to the physicality, Park Hae-il gives it his all as an actor with an incredibly layered performance.
Tang Wei is a name people should remember after watching Decision to Leave. Her performance as Seo-rae, the film’s femme fatale, is astonishing. Not only does she make the chemistry between Seo-rae and Hae-jun not feel creepy, but the development of a genuine connection is incredible.
From a technical aspect, Decision to Leave is also just as impressive. The film’s cinematography features lush landscapes and expertly and creatively captures chase scenes, fist fights, and emotional catharsis like I haven’t seen camerawork before. The tight focus on the characters’ faces helps accentuate the characters’ emotions and expressions. The editing and surreal displacements of time to revisit critical moments in a character’s life are incredibly clever. The score invokes powerful feelings and elevates tension when it needs to.
Park Chan-wook’s direction and his scrupulous eye behind the camera make the film feel like one with a distinct purpose. There is genuinely no director working that invokes emotion like Park does with his movies.
While the mystery that brought Hae-jun and Seo-rae doesn’t stay as the film’s focus, it isn’t a problem from a narrative standpoint. The relationship between the two characters remains the true core of Decision to Leave. How it evolves and changes should be left for audiences to experience when they see the film. Suffice to say, it plays out as engaging and tragically as the film’s premise would promise.
Despite the comedy and the inevitable tragedy that comes with this type of relationship, the movie is still incredibly romantic. Watching Hae-jun transform into someone more open to the emotions of others and himself was truly special. Moreover, the intimacy between the two leads isn’t sexual but still feels incredibly sensual and makes the viewer feel that their connection is genuine and special.
This incredible connection Park translates onto the big screen makes the film hurt all the more once the ending comes around. The melancholy tone seeping at the edges of the film during its first two acts becomes full-blown by the third act, feeling like an emotional gut punch.
Decision to Leave might be Park Chan-wook’s funniest film, but it’s also his most tragic and heartbreaking. How Park weaves these disparate tones together to make an intoxicating film is impressive. The director is truly a master of his craft, and Decision to Leave isn’t only his best film, it’s probably the best of the year. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Decision to Leave is Playing in Theaters on October 14, 2022.
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