TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Decision to Leave is the kind of murderous, nutty, funny, poignant film that only Park Chan-wook can deliver. It isn’t as violent as the Vengeance trilogy or as tense as The Handmaiden, but it stands out as perhaps his most moving film — a meditation on love and how it can motivate our lives for better or worse. It won him Best Director at Cannes in 2022 and was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is a hotshot detective investigating a man’s fall from a mountain. Though he’s somewhat happily married, complications ensue when he develops a crush on the dead man’s wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei). It seems that Seo-rae killed her mother in an apparent assisted suicide, and many signs point to her as her husband’s killer. Hae-jun may or may not be letting the femme fatale cloud his judgment, and he knows it. As a result, he’s testy with his coworkers and impatient with his wife. Meanwhile, we’re never quite sure (at least at the beginning) of Seo-rae’s mysterious intentions. What results is an examination of the extensive unraveling that can be caused by blind love.
“…a hotshot detective investigating a man’s fall from a mountain.”
Decision to Leave certainly has roots in film noir. It contains a lady of uncertain moral virtue, a committed detective, and a trail of bodies. Yet still, this isn’t your straightforward noir as director/co-writer Park Chan-wook’s stamp is unmistakable. He keeps us ping-ponging back and forth in our minds as to the guilt of Seo-rae and cuts through the tension with bumbling police sidekicks wryly commenting on the predicaments the leads find themselves in. Of course, there is much more, including a whole second half with another death, but to say any more would give too much away.
It wouldn’t be a Park Chan-wook film without a little directorial flair, and here he treats us to a conceit I’ve never seen before. To spice up the surveillance scenes, the detective looking through binoculars is teleported into the scene he’s surveilling, almost as a ghost. It works and gives you an extra dimension from the acting that you just can’t show through binoculars.
Decision to Leave deals with the biggest subjects humans have to grapple with: love, sex, and death, and does so in what amounts to a serious, dramatic fashion. If the book did this, it might seem a little too predictable and formulaic. But instead, it is done on the playful side of over-the-top, causing us to let our guard down just enough for some serious stuff to grab us by the heart. I, for one, will take a fun, murderous, tragic love story over a straightforward tear-jerker any day.
Decision to Leave screened at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival.
"…a fun, murderous, tragic love story..."