Decision To Leave
I have been reviewing a lot of Indian and Hollywood content lately which is why I decided to break the trend and keep up with some of the International content doing the rounds. And the film that I decided to watch and review was the Korean film titled Decision To Leave. To be honest, I was drawn in instantly to the film because of the man behind it – Park Chan-Wook, the visionary director behind films like Old Boy, Joint Security Area or even The Handmaiden. There are a few directors who can seldom go wrong with their films and Park Chan-Wook is one of them. It was so easy to taper off after Old Boy, a film which is regarded as a cult even today. But he did follow up with many films that indicated that he is here to stay. Returning to direction after a gap of 6 years, I was absolutely looking forward to watching his new directorial venture Decision To Leave. So then is Decision To Leave worth your time, lets find out.
Story & Screenplay
Decision To Leave is the story of a police officer who during a murder investigation falls for one of his suspects. What happens next? Do not go by the two lines of the story which I have mentioned. There is so much more to it in this layered story and screenplay which is perhaps one of the most challenging pieces of cinema that I have witnessed recently. The screenplay standing at almost 140 minutes is on the longer side but it forms one of the most satisfying and immersive movie watching experience like no other. And I will be letting out MAJOR SPOILERS, so if you haven’t watched the film then do skip this section and move to the “Dialogues, Music & Direction” section.
One of the most unique things about the screenplay is that there is zero buildup. So the audiences are entrusted with keeping pace with the story right from frame number one without actually settling in to the film. This could so easily have backfired but it is the genius of Park Chan-Wook who shines through here.
On the go, you are given a glimpse of the mundane life of the protagonist who we get to know is an insomniac despite being the youngest investigator to rise up the ranks. We also do get to know that he is a loner despite being married and probably a further indication that he visits his wife on weekends and stays in a different city on weekdays. A possible murder investigation fuels his life once again until he meets the suspect with whom he forms an unusual bond.
In erotic films like Vertigo or Basic Instinct, we have seen a similar plotline which results in quite a few intimate scenes. But here, there is s*xual tension which is palpable between the two leads but it doesn’t result in any steamy scenes. Instead what we get is a magical spell of comfort between the two characters despite being at two separate spectrums of a murder investigation. The plot consistently keeps you guessing on whether this was a murder or a suicide and if Seo-rae(the suspect) was involved in it.
There are innumerous use of symbolisms that demands an unwavering attention from the user. This is a layered drama over another layer that the writers keep piling on. The drama is niche and requires a lot of patience to sit through its leisurely pacing. So much so that the twist in the tale is rather unassuming leading to another investigation. But the drama is essentially a love story and quite a unique one.
The depth of the two protagonists overpower the depth of any of the other characters on the film. The love story is really heartfelt and it also shows that love isn’t only about being physical but more of a spiritual bond. So over conversations, Seo-rae stimulates sleep for Park Hae-jun(the cop) in a beautifully soothing scene where their breaths are in sync with one another. Another conversation reveals that Hae-jun is terrified of blood, only for a later reference to be of Seo-rae cleaning the blood around the corpse of her second husband. Another tender moment included Seo-rae handing over an old cell phone to Hae-il so that a reinvestigation begins and things stand as they were earlier between them. All these moments are tender and beautifully integrated in the screenplay depicting their beautiful bond with beautiful cultural references(Korean and Chinese, notice the dragon shaped road at the end) which was crucial for the final act.
Another gentle spoiler before revealing the final act being that she hadn’t killed her second husband who had later discovered a voice note of Hae-jun professes his “love” for Sae-rae. So she had killed a gangster’s mother(who had lent her husband a hefty amount), only for the gangster to kill her second husband.
The beauty of the drama is always in the final reveal and here it is perhaps the most shocking final act that I have seen in a while. And if you are still with me then here is a major spoiler. The act of suicide by Seo-rae was an act of love. It was at the halfway mark where Hae-jun had told Sae-rae to throw the cell phone to the deepest end of the sea thereby implying his love for her(so that she isn’t caught and tried for the murder of her first abusive husband). And that was the moment when she says, “the time when you confess your love to someone, it ends. And that is when my love begins”, implying that she was ready to bury herself in the sea(a reference at the halfway mark) so that it is said that she has disappeared without the police questioning Hae-jun thus making it her ‘Decision To Leave’. A beautifully poignant screenplay that requires multiple viewings to discover a new layer every time.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
This is one of the films which says a lot through its stunning visuals rather than wording them. So you really need to latch onto the different symbolisms to truly understand the underlying context here much like all films of Park Chan-Wook. The BGM is beautifully melancholic and sets up the mood of the drama beautifully. The use of smartphones and smartwatches in clever switches in cinematography makes for a masterful drama, visually speaking. This is a visual heavy film and you need to be attentive throughout. The editing is to die for and some beautifully woven sequences are put together through some smart editing. To give you a perspective, a few characters entire a scene of the crime depicting a flashback. This is the kind of drama that doesn’t quite allow you to settle and in a good way and that is the genius of Park Chan-Wook. This film is neither a drama nor a thriller yet both at the same time. So if you are going in with an expectation of Old Boy then you may end up being disappointed. This drama is closer to the complexities of The Handmaiden which is a better reference to keep your expectations in check. The direction is outstanding here.
The performances are excellent here. Lee Jung-hyun as Juan-an has her moments to shine as does Go Kyung-pyo as Soo-wan. But the stars of the show are Tang Wei as Seo-rae and Park Hae-il as Hae-jun aho share crackling chemistry with each other. They contribute to so many heartwarming moments yet you do feel kind of hollow given the heartbreaking finale. Both of them are very natural and they were able to break the fourth wall and successfully pierce my heart.
Decision To Leave might be niche and requires patience yet it casts a spell around a twisted investigation making it one of the finest films of this year. If you do enjoy challenging cinema then this one is for you. Highly Highly Highly Recommended from my side.