Decision to Leave

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What it’s about:

While investigating the death of a man in the mountains, a detective starts to develop an obsession with the victim’s mysterious wife. But his emotions and insomnia may cost him his reputation, if not something much more, in this acclaimed Korean romantic mystery.

Names you might know:

Director and co-screenwriter Park Chan-wook, one of South Korea’s most famous directors, who’s known for his critically acclaimed 2003 film Old Boy (which was recreated by Spike Lee in 2013). Lead actress Tang Wei (Song Seo-rae) is known for her work in The Whistleblower (2019), and Park Hae-il (Det. Jang Hae-jun), the lead actor, is known for A Muse (2012).

Why it’s worth your time:

What more do you need than an insomniac detective who falls for the wife of the victim he is investigating, in a film directed by one of the most unique minds in cinema?  Adding to the intrigue, the film was well-received at festivals, so I went searching for any theater around me that was showing it.

Yes, you could stay a version of this story has been done before, but not in this way, and not with this intensity.

The characters both wear their flaws on their sleeve. Detective Jang is mainly concerned about his work and less about his devoted wife, who lives in another village. As the victim’s wife, Song comes off as sweet and innocent, but also seems to lack empathy for her recently deceased husband, prompting Jang to make her a suspect. But you have to wonder if Song’s husband was abusive…or if she did not care for him in the first place.

Both the detective and the widow lack passion in their relationships. But  when they encounter one another, there’s a spark that I can only compare to Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, or even Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals’s characters in Devil in a Blue Dress. Wei and Hae-il have enough chemistry on-screen that they may be soul mates no matter their scenario.

I was as compelled to watch to see if these two would eventually become a couple as much as by the suspense around who killed Song’s husband.

A few scenes are so hilarious they surprised me, as they don’t match the serious tone of the film. But they don’t take away from the story and the need to know: Did Song do it?  And because the story is unfolding from the perspective of the detective, will his exhaustion and obsession with her ever allow for a clear answer?

The back end of the film could have been trimmed down a bit to help with the tension built in the first two acts, but it still delivers a Park Chan-wook ending that is shocking…if not as disturbing as his previous work.

The takeaway:

A romantic Korean noir, Decision to Leave captivates as much for the emotional chess match and chemistry between its detective and suspect as it does for the shocking psychological mystery that unfolds. Watch for it as an Oscar contender for Best International Feature.

Watch it with:

A ‘Not Rated’ film, it includes a few sex scenes, but I wouldn’t call them racy.  Watch it solo or for a Date Night. You just never know who to root for or if the relationship between the two leads will work.

Worth noting:

A Korean film with English subtitles, the film earned Park Chan-wook Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

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