‘Decision to Leave’ (2022) Review: A Perfect Marriage of Murder and Romance.

A detective inexplicably finds himself drawn to the wife of a victim, who happens to be the lead suspect in the investigation.

Matthew Barratt
4th November 2022
Image taken from @MadmanFilms on Twitter
Director Park Chan-wook’s slow burn detective romance evokes a quasi-Hitchcockian approach to character-oriented filmmaking, unravelling its narrative with intricate precision.

Decision to Leave follows the insomniac detective Hae-Joon (Park Hei-il). Haunted by his history of unresolved cases, the film focuses on the inspector’s developing relationship with the prime suspect in his new case: the ‘suicide’ of a climber on a mountaintop. Coincidentally, the suspect happens to be the wife of the deceased, Seo-Rae (Tang Wei), a young Chinese immigrant whom Hae-Joon, bored of his dwindling marriage and regressing into obsession toward his policework, grows an uncomfortable attraction to.

Decision to Leave’s narrative cohesion, therefore, relies on the fundamental depiction of communication and the subsequent miscommunication that can arise due to secrecy and mistrust

Director Park situates the film over the course of many months and locations, with the narrative complexity of its genre as a detective noir making it a feature that drip-feeds its audience revelatory information over its long run time. Park achieves this through the motifs of barriers and borders, whether it be the division between home and work, the security of smartphones and technology or language barriers and translation. Decision to Leave’s narrative cohesion, therefore, relies on the fundamental depiction of communication and the subsequent miscommunication that can arise due to secrecy and mistrust. Director Park excels – as he has done previously with similarly composite films like The Handmaiden (2016) – in both writing and directing a multilayered visual mystery with its own original narrative concepts towards presenting the film's developing plot.

Decision to Leave evokes a Hitchcockian-style; a perverse dichotomy of violent romanticism

This is reinforced by the cinematic parallels between Director Park’s film and that of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Rear Window (1954), films that are renowned for narrative suspense and exploring the intertwining themes of love and violence. Director Park utilizes the relationship between Hae-Joon and Seo-Rae to present the concepts of romance and crime, another key marriage of themes depicted in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. These two themes don’t necessarily co-exist within Director Park’s prior works, instead permeating his films as separate entities, whether it be excessive violence in his Vengeance Trilogy of films or the romantic eroticism in The Handmaiden and Stoker (2013). Despite this, Decision to Leave evokes a Hitchcockian-style; a perverse dichotomy of violent romanticism. It’s a thematic union of Park’s key concepts, visualized in the film with care and restraint, refraining from overindulgence and working with the multi-layered narrative of mystery to craft a unique spin on romance and mystery.

The aforementioned union of themes is particularly evident in Director Park’s subversion of the romantic crime drama, notably in the presentation of its two leads and the way they immerse themselves into an obsessive relationship of emotional co-dependency. Instead, the film opts to dissect Hae-Joon’s unconventional romanticism of his prime suspect; he's a detective whose borderline obsessive dedication to his policework has rendered him an emotionally repressed shell, only capable of finding alternate emotional connection through his policework. Enter the character of Seo-Rae, a character who enables Hae-Joon’s reliance on policework to form a romantic bond, as the only way a man like Hae-Joon can love Seo-Rae is if she is either a suspect or one of the unresolved cases that renders him sleepless at night.

Morbidly bleak but stylishly presented and exquisitely executed

All of these aforementioned facets; the serpentine structure, the amalgamation of unconventional themes and the subsequent subversion of these concepts converge to create a uniquely impressive film that counters Director Park's penchant for the excesses of sex and violence that are commonplace in his prior works. Decision to Leave’s characters are emotionally perverse; the film morbidly bleak but stylishly presented and exquisitely executed. Like the metaphorical union of murder and romance, Hae-Joon and Seo-Rae are the perfect match for one another.

Decision to Leave is currently in cinemas

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