This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival
Director and co-writer Park Chan-wook‘s “Decision to Leave” is a slow-burn story of obsession, desire, and murder. This richly layered noir film offers a stylish homage to Hitchcock thrillers with its impressive visuals and intricate storytelling.
Detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) is assigned to a potential murder case after a man falls to his death from high atop a mountain peak in South Korea. When he arrives on the scene, Hae-joon begins to question whether the deceased accidentally slipped while climbing, was suicidal and deliberately jumped, or was pushed by another party. He begins to suspect the dead man’s wife Seo-rae (Tang Wei) and digs deeper into her past. As the investigation develops, Hae-joon’s skepticism of the woman grows. He soon finds himself trapped in a tangled web of deception and intense desire, and it’s one from which he cannot escape.
Chan-wook weaves the classic thriller and romance genres into his narrative, creating a compelling mystery with a complicated femme fatale. The only thing that infatuates Hae-joon more than the object of his investigation are the half dozen unsolved murder cases that keep him awake at night. He is methodical in his work and plagued by his inability to close a file, so much so that he keeps gruesome crime scene photos tacked to his kitchen wall. Hae-joon is the very definition of a man obsessed, which means it will be all too easy to bring about his ruin.
There’s a complexity to the storytelling that’s effective and memorable, as Chan-wook and co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong create detailed characters that are intriguing and inscrutable. The visuals play with the idea of perspective and how easy it is to be blinded by and completely miss obvious cues and clues that are staring you right in the face. It’s unclear who’s lying and what really happened, with added obstacles of language barriers and half-truths that are shared between the characters. Multiple stories that jump around without much exposition make the film difficult to follow at first, and it can be challenging for the viewer until everything eventually settles down.
While visually stunning, Chan-wook takes too long to tell his story. Some scenes drag on and serve little purpose to the narrative. The film’s lengthy run time does it no favors, and a bit of editing at both ends would have done wonders for the pacing.
One of the strongest elements of the film is the haunting ending that brings the story and themes full circle. It’s a tragic finale that guarantees a continuation of the cycle of torment and obsession that will never be resolved. “Decision to Leave” is a polished, affecting work of art.
By: Louisa Moore