“Decision to Leave” (2022)
Running Time: 139 minutes
Written by: Jeong Seo-kyeong and Park Chan-wook
Directed by: Park Chan-wook
Featuring: Tang Wei and Park Hae-il
Seo-rae: “The moment you said you loved me, your love is over. The moment your love ends, my love begins.”
Released recently on DVD and Blu-ray is Korean writer/director Park Chan-wook’s follow up to his hit and Oscar worthy “The Handmaiden” (2016) in the form of the drama/thriller “Decision to Leave” (2022) which had extremely high expectations considering its forbear and it is an extremely worthy film that appears to have missed its mark with critics and fans. It is curious for a film to be set in South Korea and in a modern age it feels like a throwback to not only the directors previous work but also to a Hollywood of the late 1990s.
“Decision to Leave” is based around insomniac detective, Hae-Jun, who works in Busan and only sees his wife, Jung-An, a nuclear power plant worker residing in Ipo, once a week. Hae-Jun and his partner, Soo-Wan, encounter a case where a retired immigration officer, Ki Do Soo, is found dead at the foot of a mountain he often climbed. They interview his much younger wife, Seo-Rae, an emigrant from China who works as a caretaker for seniors. They suspect her because of her insufficient displays of grief, a scratch on her hand, bruises on her legs and torso, and a tattoo of Ki’s initials in the manner that he marked his other belongings. Hae-Jun conducts further interviews with Seo-Rae and conducts nightly stakeouts outside of Seo-Rae’s apartment building, becoming infatuated with her in the process.
There is no doubt that “Decision to Leave” may appear to be traditional especially in terms of Park’s previous movies but it does indicate a step forward while looking at the past or history especially of erotic thrillers. But this film does take a left turn towards the latter half although it does appear tame compared to say “Oldboy” (2005) and “The Handmaiden” but this does illustrate a wanting to be taken more seriously and less like a shock director and more like one with something to say, this could be why the film was met with a muted response.
It should be made clear that “Decision to Leave” is not what you would call a mainstream drama as the motivations and the outcomes of the characters involved. As with many thrillers the main characters start off as what would be considered normal, such as Al Pacino in the very late 1980s thriller “Sea of Love” (1989), but as the narrative moves around him he makes leaps pf logic a normal policeman would not make. Here in “Decision to Leave” Park sets up Hae-jun as a rational creature so he can then unmoor him from his routines and see what happens. And he’s wonderfully playful here with the theme of communication—Seo-rae speaks Korean but sometimes has to use a translator app from her native Chinese, highlighting how these people aren’t really speaking to one another in a direct manner.
There is no doubt that Park has a lot going on within “Decision to Leave”, but it does feel like two separate halves, one half a sentimental old fashioned plot and narrative that seems like the work of a seasoned director who makes genre experiments. While the second half seems to at least emulate the kind of Park Chan-wook from the past. What may have been more interesting was if “Decision to Leave” had been produced earlier in his career what may have happened would have been more of a singular union between both halves, instead of the feeling I have of something left on the cutting room floor. This is a very good film but it does lack a certain unifying of both the plot and the narrative as well as some evenness throughout, it is still worthy of a look especially on Blu-ray.