Review: Decision to Leave
Orianna Xu immerses herself in Park Chan-wook’s latest offering a Hitchcockian visual mystery boasting a terrific leading performance from Tang Wei
Weaving together mystery, thriller, and melodrama, Director Park Chan-Wook’s Decision to Leave (2022) turns the well-trodden tale of a policeman that develops feelings for a suspect into a disorienting dream state. Insomniac detective Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae il) enjoys the thrill of his Busan job during the week and drives home to his wife in Ipo on the weekends, while Seo-rae (Tang Wei) is a mysterious Chinese caregiver that Hae-jun is investigating as a murder suspect of her late husband’s death.
With jarring cuts and unconventional point-of-view shots, the film’s tone is generally one of unease, punctuated by humour. In adjusting to unexpected cuts, viewers must constantly re-orient themselves spatially, just as they must constantly reassess their suspicions. In other words, the audience assumes Hae-jun’s detective role. And Hae-jun is a passionate detective, scaling a rock face to trace Seo-rae’s late husband’s steps. However, he is unable to truly walk in the deceased’s shoes, while audience members are disturbingly positioned behind the corpse’s unseeing eyes as ants scurry over the field of view.
In other words, the audience assumes Hae-jun’s detective role.
Indeed, the film is extremely concerned with sight a la Hitchcock. When Hae-jun observes Seo-rae on stakeouts through binoculars, the cinematic choice to place him in her home emphasizes the invasiveness of watching. However, Seo-rae feels cared for while being watched and stakes him out in return, blurring the line between investigation and interest. The fog and Hae-jun’s use of eye drops signal that his vision is blurry, thrown into chaos by Seo-rae, and here it must be noted that Park Hae-il does a magnificent job of eye-acting.
The surreal, thought-provoking film is worth watching for the hauntingly beautiful ending sequence alone.
Park Hae-il breaks down with full credibility and Go Kyung-pyo is comical as the hot-headed rookie character foil. But the stand-out performance for me was Tang Wei’s. Wei expertly expresses Seo-rae’s multiplicity, especially in the second half, embodying the desperate foreigner, loving family member, and femme fatale while keeping viewers on edge; even during a scene where Hae-jun is helping her gain closure from grief, we are not sure if she will embrace him or push him to his death. It is hard to believe that the performance is Wei’s first in a Korean film and has rightfully become her breakout role in the Korean film industry.
Performances aside, there are some stunning nature shots, and the sparse soundscape is also well-done, heightening the breathing sounds and “Mist”, folk singer Jung Hoon Hee’s debut song and an inspiration for the film. While the cast and technical aspects are excellent, the film does suffer slightly from the limitations of its plot, reading at times like a show of technical prowess and the carry-through of character arcs rather than a convincing story. Some Park Chan-Wook fans may also be disappointed by the more subdued nature of this film compared to his previous work, which is more a testament to Park’s success as an auteur than a critique of Decision to Leave. This surreal, thought-provoking film is worth watching for the hauntingly beautiful ending sequence alone.