Decision to Leave is a spellbinding experience, a transportive trip back in time to a different era of filmmaking that brings enough ingenuity and modern edge.

Film Review: Decision To Leave

Film Reviews

Decision To Leave
Director: Park Chan-wook

Moho Film
In Theaters 10.28

It’s hardly rare to see a director trying to channel Alfred Hitchcock; the master of suspense is such an undeniably influential figure in shaping modern cinema. It’s almost unheard of to see it done perfectly, however, and yet the only word that does justice to Decision to Leave, the melancholy mystery romance from Park Chan-wook, would be perfection.

Decision to Leave begins with a South Korean businessman plunging to death from a mountain peak. The detective assigned to the case, the methodical and obsessive Jane Hae-joon (Park Hae-il, The Host), a chronic insomniac, quickly begins to suspect that the dead man’s wife Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei, Lust, Caution) is the key to the question of whether the victim jumped or was pushed. As Hae-joon questions and investigates Seo-rae, the married man finds that his interest in her is becoming more than merely professional, and the more time he spends with her, the more the spark between them seems undeniable. This being a film noir mystery, all is rarely exactly as it seems, and the closer Hae-joon gets to Seo-rae, the more enigmatic she becomes, and the more tangled this baffling web of complex secrets, desire and deceit becomes, the more Hae-joon finds himself becoming a part of this mysterious woman’s larger story.

Park (Old Boy, The Handmaiden) has already proven himself to be a creative and masterful filmmaker, and Decision to Leave is a gorgeous love letter to Hollywood’s golden age, paying homage to Hitchcock—especially Vertigo—and Orson Welles, with just a touch of Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet thrown in. It’s impossible to deny these overt influences, yet Decision to Leave is full of rich characterizations, detailed and original storytelling and a sense of sheer inspiration that puts it far above copycat tributes such as What Lies Beneath. Parks provides easily the most eye-popping money shots of the year and a brooding atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and there is a realism to the performances and humanity to the storytelling that transcends the pulpish trappings, proving Decision to Leave to be every bit as involving as a doomed romance as it is a twists and turns-filled thriller. The nonlinear aspects of the story structure, combined with the intricacies of the mystery itself, make Decision to Leave a bit hard to follow at times. It’s definitely the kind of film that requires your full attention, and even possibly repeat viewings in order to catch every detail, though it’s so beautifully made that serious cinephiles are likely to be eagerly watching the film over and over to study the artistry of the execution and the sheer mastery of the craft. The musical score by Jo Yeong-wook is a magnificent blend of Asian instrumentation and pure Bernard Hermann, sweeping Hollywood melodrama, and it makes for a transfixing combination. 

Park Hae-il is fantastic is layered portrayal of Hae-joon, a character that one can easily imagine being played by Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Harrison Ford or Al Pacino, though the tender vulnerability that Park brings to the role is refreshingly free of the tough-guy tropes usually associated with a hard-boiled detective. Tang Wei is mesmerizing, impossible not to become enchanted with yet equally impossible to trust. Lee Jung-hyun (The Battleship Island), as Hae-Joon’s wife, Jeong-ahn, is sympathetic and effective and the ensemble cast is stellar.

Decision to Leave is a spellbinding experience, a transportive trip back in time to a different era of filmmaking that still manages to have enough ingenuity and modern edge to it so as to never feel like a gimmick, executed with a precision and finesse that is breathtaking to behold. Decision to Leave is nothing short of a masterpiece, a prime example of passionate filmmaking for the love of the art. Unless you have a rigid and narrow definition of what a Park Chan-wook film is supposed to be and are disappointed to see him doing something less dark and violent, it’s hard to imagine any serious film fan walking away from this intoxicating moviegoing experience with much to complain about. Decision to Leave ranks among the very best films of 2022 on every level. –Patrick Gibbs

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