Park Chan-wook’s neo-noir romance, Decision to Leave, follows Busan Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) as he investigates the possible murder of an elderly climber. Hae-jun suspects that the widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei) was involved. However, he falls for Seo-rae, which complicates and compromises the investigation. After finding out the truth behind the murder, he leaves Busan for a smaller town with no murders. However, the case comes back to haunt him, jeopardizing his job and relationships.
The combination of noir elements and romance was fascinating. It is romantic, even though it probably shouldn’t be. While Hae-jun questions Seo-rae at the police station, the shots are framed as though they’re in a restaurant on a date. There’s also a slightly voyeuristic aspect to the relationship, as Hae-jun seems to fall for her while he surveils her all evening.
You don’t know who the protagonist or antagonist is or whom you should sympathize with or believe. Is Seo-rae a serial murderer? Will she end up murdering Hae-jun? I was on the edge of my seat because I wanted to know how the story ended.
One thing that has stuck with me since watching this film is the focus on the eyes. When Hae-jun examines the climber’s body, the climber’s eyes are open, glazed, with flies landing on them. After this is shown, there are numerous occasions where those eyes are shown again, and Hae-jun frequently stops and puts eyedrops in his eyes. It gave me the willies and has stuck with me for over a week later. Now, that is some good filmmaking.
After seeing the film, I did read some reviews, and they were mixed. There was the inevitable comparison to Park’s last film, The Handmaiden (2016). I luckily cannot make that comparison, as I’ve only seen bits and pieces of The Handmaiden. The film I did compare this to in my mind is Park’s Stoker (2013); I loved Stoker so much and I found many similarities between those films; Decision to Leave took obsession and infatuation between two people that should not exist.
As someone that does not speak or understand Korean (I don’t think K-pop lyrics count), there were some things that I missed out on. For example, Seo-rae is a Chinese immigrant, and apparently, her Korean is stilted and blunt. This was a vital aspect of the film that non-Korean-speaking audiences wouldn’t catch onto. There are examples where some things do literally get lost in translation, such as the use of the word shattered, which Seo-rae did not seem to understand. This word becomes very important during part two and impacts the film’s end.
Decision to Leave has already been submitted for the Oscars, and it has a good chance of winning. The storyline is familiar and has the same vibes as Hitchcock’s Vertigo. You’ll probably enjoy this film if you don’t compare it to The Handmaiden. You may not like it if you don’t enjoy ambiguous movies. I liked this film and would watch it again, which is my ultimate compliment.
I’m a Data Analyst, from the land of Matthew McConaughey. I’m an avid movie-goer and love seeing films in theaters. My most recent favorite films are Good Time, Only Lovers Left Alive, TENET, and England is Mine. When I’m not at the movies, I’m either reading or watching obscene amount of true crime and historical documentaries.