Director Park Chan-wook first made cinematic waves with “Oldboy,” a twisted tale that garnered the attention of Spike Lee who later adapted the film for US audiences. In 2016, Chan-wook released the criminally underappreciated film, “The Handmaiden,” which saw romance and drama wrapped in a mystery.
With his latest endeavor, “Decision to Leave,” the director delivers another genre-weaving classic as he merges romance with a classic film noir detective story.
In Busan, a straight-laced detective (Park Hae-il) is investigating an older government official who fell from a mountain peak. He suspects that the man’s wife, Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), a much younger Chinese immigrant, might have something to do with the death. This leads the detective to get closer and closer to his suspect, blurring the lines of the investigation and his own personal desires.
It sounds like familiar genre territory for Chan-wook, but Chan-wook brings new tools to his director kit for this film. There are some mesmerizing shot selections and camera work that fully immerses the audience in this world. The movie is less interested in the murder mystery, focusing on the possible relationship between its two magnetic leads.
This is a complication for our detective, who is married, though he only spends his weekends at home. The sexual tension is played brilliantly throughout the film, and it holds its intensity without overstaying its welcome.
A jump time in the back half of the film is jarring to an extend, fitting in new details of the case that aren’t dolled out with such intention as they were earlier in the film. The characters have a lived-in feel, which would’ve been explored further if not for the non-linear storytelling.
Chan-wook hopes to approach Hitchcock territory with the film and mostly suceeds, particularly with the pervasive mood present. You’ve watching this film and wondering if the feeling between these two characters are real or just part of a dangerous game they’re both playing.
This film noir mystery would not have the same impact with a lesser director at the helm. Chan-wook has a great time of below the line talent supporting his actors, and the film has had consistent screenings in LA, making it a strong contender for Best International Film.
Letter Grade: B+