Decision To Leave (2022)

Directed by Park Chan-wook; Written by Chung Seo-kyung and Park Chan-wook

It’s a good thing Decision To Leave offers a familiar premise to clutch onto, because Park Chan-Wook’s story of a determined detective’s obsession with his murder suspect would otherwise be too unnerving, too unsettling and too slippery to handle. An emotional cat-and-mouse game made to leave you feeling like you’re standing on the shore, the cold waves rolling in around your ankles and the sand eroding underneath your soles.  

Park Hae-il plays Jang Hae-joon, murder detective. Prim, proper, married to the job in Busan during the week, actually married on the weekends, where he lives with a doting wife in a rural town. Nights in the city are lonely. He doesn’t sleep well, so he puts the time to use in staking out suspects, noting their movements with precision like an act of accounting voyeurism. He’s successful, but also a dispassionate colleague and person. 

The years have made him good at his job, every bit the professional, machine-like. Until one day he stands over the corpse of a man who’s taken a steep tumble down a mountainside, and circumstances demand he takes a good hard long look at the widow; So Jang does, but in those dark hours of watching, something besides professional determination awakens and the foreign feeling gives life to a tremor that’ll grow into something earth-shattering.

As for the film, it makes room for a few things, some of which are Park trademarks and some that elevate Decision To Leave:  

There’s suspense: foot chases, fights, violence. Park Chan-wook’s latest is a far cry from the level of carnage featured in his Vengeance-films, but there’s still enough to make you wince. Life’s mess makes you violent seems Park’s motto, but in Decision to Leave, the violence is very much second fiddle to trauma that doesn’t show. 

There’s seduction. Park’s film is a neo-noir, firmly in the mold of the classic narrative of a dogged detective and a mysterious woman circling on another, and opposite Jang Hae-joon you have Tang Wei as Seo Seo-rae, the woman who remains a cypher. It’s to Wei’s credit you don’t experience her as someone purposefully opaque who keeps everything at an artificial arm’s length; instead she’s more of a foreign entity who remains just beyond Jang’s comprehension. The result is existential despair over the not-knowing as opposed to feelings of victimization due to ill treatment. 

There’s cinematic artistry. It’s in the chase of intimacy that Decision to Leave, and director Park in particular, shines, as we watch Jang and Seo circle each other. Park’s direction sees emotional intimacy collapse time and space. Binoculars become teleportation devices, with Jang suddenly within arm’s reach of his Seo, close enough to smell her cigarettes, hear the small draws of her breath, feel the heat of her body while sitting next to her. Park takes observation and replaces it with sensuousness. He’s always been known to add a visual flourish, but here it’s elegance with a purpose. 

There are enough twists to thrill in the moment, but it’s the summation of all the above that really pins you down as the film draws to a close. It’s a real “feel-it-in-your-gut”-type of film and is all down to the manipulation and meticulous craft of Park. Decision to Leave is a must-see for anyone who saw Lee Chang-dong’s Burning and wanted slightly more of a genre exercise but the same out-of-depth experience. 

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