Decision to Leave (2022) Movie Review – A wonderful Korean neo-noir romantic mystery

A wonderful Korean neo-noir romantic mystery

With a Korean director and both Korean and Chinese cast, Decision to Leave manages to feel so very… French. From the far-from-subtle sound effects to the classic thriller soundtrack, the sepia-toned mood and the quick flips in time. This neo-noir romantic mystery has a personality of its own.

The building block plot doesn’t waste a single scene. Everything is subtly telling us something, preventing us from getting so involved in the storyline that we miss out on our job as viewers. Denied the liberty of watching passively, there’s little opportunity for relief. Perfect Academy fodder, no?

Sound effects act as an additional lead character, full volume breaking through at the most unexpected of moments. Such as a scene (that could have easily been a mental rest) where Hae-jun is gutting a large fish, likely another of his wife’s miracle cures for reviving desire. The sound of the long swipe and organs squishing out are almost louder than the dialogue and definitely speaking truths.

There’s nothing happy about this film, for us or the fish, but it is certainly compelling. Like Rubens’ depiction of perpetual torture in Prometheus Bound, we cannot look away. Although murder is front and center, the revulsion comes from detailed scenes and sounds that are rarely part of the main action but set to amplify, pointing our attention like a dream suddenly turned lucid.

Award winning prior to its cinema release, Decision to Leave took Best Director for Park Chan-wook in the Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It’s also South Korea’s Oscar entry for Best International Feature Film, to be determined in March.

Verging on the obsessive, Detective Hae-jun works murder cases, unable to let go until they’re solved to his satisfaction. While investigating a suspicious death, he becomes both sceptical of and interested in the deceased’s wife, Seo-rae.

With a long-distance slow-dry marriage and growing preoccupation with the suspect, he begins to unravel as he questions his own integrity – his definition of self. During endless bouts of sleeplessness, you can practically hear him think aloud ‘what in the hell am I doing?’ In unison, we’re asking that same question.

South Korean director, screenwriter and producer Park Chan-wook is best known for films The Handmaiden (Prime, AppleTV), Oldboy (Prime) and the English-language Stoker (Disney+). Known for beautiful cinematography and framing, black humor and often brutal subject matter, he’s attained the trifecta with Decision to Leave. While the cinematographer to bring it all together, Kim Ji-yong’s notables include The Fortress (Prime) and Okja (Netflix).

Director Park Chan-wook

Tang Wei plays the questionable Seo-rae, Chinese wife of the victim. She’s won multiple accolades across her career for films including Long Day’s Journey into Night (YouTube), The Golden Era (Prime) and Finding Mr Right. By turns, she appears calculating or pathetic, a victim or maybe not to much. Seo-rae drives the action, even when she’s not on screen or even in the same town.

Detective Hae-jun is brought to life by Park Hae-il, recognised for his work in The Fortress (Prime), Whistle Blower and The Last Princess. As Hae-jun, he follows, for perhaps the first time in his long-suffering but duty-fuelled career.

Lee Jung-hyun is an ALS-style bucket of cold water as Hae-jun’s now clinical and cold but long-suffering wife, ready to shut down anything that’s not pre-approved or endorsed. In a way, she’s more committed to material proof than her husband.

It’s a little disappointing that Go Kyung-pyo as Soo-wan didn’t have a meatier role, with a pointed event that doesn’t really go anywhere. One of the few strands not followed through. But it seems that there was literally no room for anyone beyond the key players, the main story and its detail so overwhelming.

The title in Korean is translated literally as decision to break up, which has a slightly different connotation. Leaving feels more like the forward motion of the story whilst breaking up is quite specific, may be more of a give-away than we’d ultimately like.

 

Decision to Leave is currently in cinemas now


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