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decision to leave

★★★★★

starring: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jung-hyun, and Kim Shin-Young

REVIEWER: lyall carter

A detective investigating a man's death in the mountains meets the dead man's mysterious wife in the course of his dogged sleuthing.

A man falls from a mountain peak to his death. The detective in charge, Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), comes to meet the dead man's wife Seo-rae (Tang Wei). "I worry when he does not come back from a mountain, thinking he might die at last." Seo-rae does not show any signs of agitation at her husband's death. 

 

With her behavior so unlike that of a grieving relative, the police consider her a suspect. Hae-joon interrogates Seo-rae, and while observing her on stakeout, feels himself slowly developing an interest in her. Meanwhile the difficult-to read Seo-rae, despite being suspected of a crime, acts boldly towards Hae-joon. A suspect who is hiding her true feelings. A detective who suspects and desires his suspect. Their Decision to Leave.

 

Decision to Leave is essentially a tale of unrequited love and obsession, a femme fatale noir, all played out within the structure of a police procedural murder mystery. More North by Northwest than Basic Instinct, director Park Chan-wook masterfully crafts this thriller that takes its time to develop the characters, their obsessions, and the underlying twist and turns of the murder mystery at the heart of the film.

 

Detective Hae-joon’s world is a dreary one, trapped in a loveless marriage, plagued by insomnia, with a boring, paperwork-heavy job. Slowly drawn into the world of Seo-rae, he becomes infatuated and his life begins to slowly but surely fall apart. 

 

Chan-wook’s creative use of different and surprising camera angles pulls us into the world of the characters, which adds a real depth that helps to draw the audience deeper into the story. There are some bizarrely beautiful and comedic oddities in Decision to Leave from the chainmail glove Hae-joon uses to fight off a knife wielding attack to thieves stealing a whole lot of snapping turtles. Decision to Leave also has one of the best endings of 2022, beautiful as it is poetic and heartbreaking, it shows that director Chan-wook is at the very heights of his powers. 

Park Hae-il and Tang Wei are perfect in the roles of detective Hae-joon and murder suspect Seo-rae. Park Hae-il infuses his character with a real sense of broken yet hope filled humanity, while Seo-rae never falls into the trap of becoming some caricature of the femme fatale; you question her decision making but you completely understand her flawed motivations. 

A slow burning noir thriller in the Hitchcockian tradition, Decision to Leave is masterfully crafted in its many twists and turns with one of the best endings of any film in 2022. 

★★★★★