Korean master Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Mr. and Mrs. Vengeance, Thirst) returned six years after the mysterious thriller “The Handmaiden” with perhaps not so much thematically but stylistically similar film that won him the award for best director at Cannes. All those who expected from Park something along the lines of shocking revenge thrillers like “Oldboy”, that phase is clearly behind him, and “Decision to Leave” could most accurately be described as a mysterious romantic thriller obviously filmed under the influence of Alfred Hitchock. And primarily the famous “Vertigo”, an often underestimated film in which the legendary master perfectly combined the elements of melodrama and mystery thriller.
It’s a film that, from the beginning to almost the very end, intentionally seems confusing, confused, Park has complicated the standard story to the limit of endurance, and the result is a poetic, made-up, highly aestheticized film with which he once again proved that he is a masterful director. Although the story and the development of events often got on my nerves in the almost 140 minutes that “Decision to Leave” lasts, and I tried with all my might to tie everything together, in the end everything makes sense.
What in Hitchcock’s film was for the detective performed by James Stewart was the fatal mysterious blonde performed by Kim Novak, for the detective in Park’s film will be the mysterious Chinese woman. The role of the fatal Sao-ra was probably the first in which I saw the great Chinese actress Tang Wei after Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”. That great role in that wonderful movie landed this then young actress in serious trouble with the Chinese authorities and her career seriously derailed. Until, apparently, a master like Park found her and put his trust in her, and she responded with a charismatic, seductive, mysterious performance of “black widow” that will completely drive the eccentric detective from Busan crazy.
That detective is Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) who suffers from insomnia because he is troubled by a murder case that he cannot solve. It is the policeman who is driven crazy by the fact that he is stuck and that the suspect in that case does not fit the profile of the killer as he imagined, when he will be assigned to investigate a death that at first does not look so suspicious. The hiker was found at the base of the mountain and everyone assumed he had fallen from the top on his own. But when Hae-jun finds photos of a battered woman’s body in his cell phone, he begins to develop some theories. Especially after he meets his wife, the beautiful and mysterious Seo-rae, a caregiver for the elderly who is instantly attracted to him.
The attraction will be mutual, but the moral detective is married to a lady who works in a nuclear power plant and he is a man of high moral principles, but he will still become possessed. Although Seo-rae has an alibi, he will be more and more convinced that she must have something to do with her husband’s death, and he will use the fact that she can’t sleep at night to follow and observe her. At moments when it seems to the viewer that Hae-jun has found evidence to accuse the mysterious widow who has driven him completely crazy, Park prepares some surprises and leaves us confused until the very finish when things fall into place.
Park definitely made a thematic and not so original film, as “Decision to Leave” is fascinating in terms of style and the way this genius weaves the story. As the whole story is told from the detective’s perspective, we are constantly thinking about what we would do if we were in his situation. He constantly thinks and weighs what to do and when and how to make the decision to leave a marriage in which love has obviously evaporated and everything has turned into some kind of routine, while on the other hand he is incredibly attracted to a woman whom he is increasingly convinced has really killed her husband. A fascinating film that certainly requires patience and concentration, but which in turn gives a lot of surprises and delights with the way in which this whole almost noir-like story is designed and executed.