Spoiler-Free Review: “Decision to Leave” (2022) starring Park Hae-il & Tang Wei

From a mountain peak in South Korea, a man plummets to his death. Did he jump, or was he pushed? When detective Hae-joon arrives on the scene, he begins to suspect the dead man’s wife Seo-rae. But as he digs deeper into the investigation, he finds himself trapped in a web of deception and desire. -Official Synopsis

If I cannot avoid it, then I embrace it.Park Chan-wook (director), when asked re: modern technology in this film

This film (streaming on MUBI) is the official submission of South Korea for the Best International Feature Film category of the 95th Academy Awards in 2023. I’d previously seen The Handmaiden, also directed by Park Chan-wook (who is in a league of his own); here we find a V different (yet also compelling) story. I was curious to see it, as I heard it was a blend of mystery, noir, and (slow burn) romance. The inspo for Decision to Leave was the Swedish crime novel series The Story of a Crime by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, which is re: aging police detective Martin Beck and contains social critique. At first, Chan-wook didn’t like the idea of using text messages; he’d considered a period piece (where the characters send hand written letters). When he decided on a modern setting, he put in a smart watch, voice recordings, and translation apps. Chan-wook used cell phone POV shots to show that the characters are NOT only looking at the screens, BUT to give a sense that they’re looking at the other person.

I envisioned it to be slow and gradual, but the actor [Hae-il] held the look for a moment too long before asking for the pattern to unlock her cell phone. -Chan-wook, when asked re: the possible “love at first sight” element

Jan Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) is an experienced cop in the big city of Busan; he’s in middle-age, wears custom-tailored suits, BUT can also run/fight better than some of the younger men. He’s a “dignified” man who is perhaps TOO invested in his work; one reviewer was reminded of Det. Vincent Hanna in Michael Mann’s Heat. Like many modern marrieds in South Korea (as my friend explained after her recent trip to Seoul), he and his wife (a scientist) live/work in separate cities, so see each other on weekends. The femme fatale is Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei, co-star of Lust, Caution), who reminded me of those beautiful/mysterious women of classic Hollywood. Both of the leads are able to portray vulnerability so well! It’s obvious that some of the authorities are suspicious of Seo-rae b/c she is Chinese (a foreigner) and much younger than her wealthy/powerful husband. There is a younger cop partnered w/ Hae-joon who provides comedy, as he has a LOT to learn and improve upon in his work.

This film is esp. well-edited and creatively shot, as many critics noted. There is much natural beauty to admire, going from city to mountains and- finally- the sea. There is no doubt that these filmmakers have an unique take, as they embrace, yet also subvert, the tropes of the crime drama. I esp. enjoyed the (gentle) romantic scenes in the 2nd act; Chan-wook said he was inspired by David Lean’s Brief Encounter. Many viewers were reminded of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, though the director said that wasn’t an influence.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.