Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Written by: Jeong Seo-kyeong & Park Chan-wook

Starring: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, Park Yong-woo, Kim Shin-young 

Rating: [4.5/5]

Human desire for objects and ideas around us comes in two levels: those that are quite possible to achieve and others only exist in our dreams. These desires can push and pull us to do quite extreme things as displayed in the elusive and alluring Decision to Leave. A journey into a passionate relationship with a level of restraint that shows a world-class director operating on a different plane. 

Dealing with insomnia and living away from his wife, Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) gets tasked with a new case of a man who fell from a mountain. Their investigation leads to the victim’s younger wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei) serving as the prime suspect. With each phase of the investigation, Hae-jun and Seo-rae begin to get closer to each other with complex emotions potentially interfering with getting to the truth. 

When it comes to Korean cinema, appointment viewing for a Park Chan-wook production does not get more automatic. A filmmaker so honed in on his craft that you know whatever he decides to take on next will, at the very least, entertain but in all reality beguile us in the layers and reveals of the story. Decision to Leave very much falls into that ilk in the way it creates such an alluring twisty narrative done through subtle actions but incredibly heavy in the emotions running through these characters. 

The push and pull in the dynamic between Seo-rae and Hae-jun comes with a level of restraint that honestly proved to be quite surprising for Park Chan-wook. If you watch The Handmaiden or Oldboy you know the man has no shyness in displaying the passion two individuals have for each other but he opts for something different in this feature. It becomes about the near-touches and what they wish they could say to each other to the point where it becomes dangerous on a physical and emotional level. Every time these two characters spend time together you will forget everything happening around them because they prove to be so enrapturing and the plot feels the same way. In the moments they share together, the film then zooms out and remembers the case involved and not because it does not carry intrigue. 

Of the other surprising elements of this feature, the comedy utilized by Park Chan-wook makes for so many hilarious moments. It almost felt off-putting at first but all of it plays into the dynamic Hae-jun has with his colleagues and how ridiculous they can be. It borders on being inept as detectives at times but this demeanor indicates the level of stress that comes with the job and ultimately what leads to Hae-jun having insomnia. Adding Seo-rae into the mix only makes things more interesting for this crew of detectives and pushes them to their limits. 

This level of playfulness comes not only from the screenplay and the acting but also from the use of the camera and editing to make the scenes comedic. Park Chan-wook proved to be on his A-game with this feature as the camera tells as much of the story as the characters in the narrative. Distinct cuts and specific shots present the different perspectives operating in the relationship dynamics that became breathtaking in moments. This directing certainly did not feel anonymous by any stretch as all of it gets felt and presented clearly through this lens capturing complex and emotional characters. 

On top of everything this film has to offer the awe-inspiring beauty and imagery that gets presented bring out so much of the emotion the narrative has to offer. This most pointedly appears in the physical levels of the story along with the emotional ones. The poster very much highlights the point but the timeline of the story draws wonderful parallels from it starting on the top of the mountain and its natural progression down towards the beach. Seeing everything start up high on the surface and make its way deeper and deeper into the Earth runs right along with what occurs on the inside for these characters. It allows for a zoomed-out appreciation for the immense craft in piecing together this story and what occurs on a visual level will forever remain burrowed in my brain. 

Dueling on screen in bringing these characters to life are Tang Wei and Park Hae-il. A back and forth that allows each of them to thrive in distinct ways. We have Park Hae-il carrying a level of sadness and desperation in every interaction he has. The emotion he needs to carry as the emotional core of the feature puts plenty on his shoulders but he could not measure to the subtler and more brilliant work put on by Tang Wei. Representing this alluring figure in the feature, she comes with this cloud of mystery draped over her and possesses this apparent impenetrable psyche to fully understand her motives and how she operates. We go through this journey in trying to comprehend her just like Park Hae-il’s Hae-jun and what we receive as audience members when we get to the center unwraps a masterful acting performance by Tang Wei. 

Much subtler but just as impactful, Decision to Leave marks a fascinating turn in his filmography and it makes for a captivating watch. We get thrown into this puzzle and have to find out the truth or decide even if it truly matters because the relationship between the two leads becomes just as enchanting as what the main plot has to offer. Park Chan-wook handles these varying perspectives with such style as one should expect and with this feature, he feeds us well.

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