VIFF 2022: Decision to Leave

Directed by Park Chan-wook
Distributed by Mubi

Written by Michael Clawson

“Decision to Leave” can be hard to keep up with, but its zig-zagging plot is one that’s deliriously satisfying to get lost in. That’s because every hairpin turn in this intricately assembled procedural leads immediately into yet more formal brilliance from the movie’s maker, Park Chan-wook. An old-fashioned detective story told in eye-popping color and exhilaratingly bold style, “Decision to Leave” wastes no opportunity to capitalize on the medium’s possibilities.

Park Hae-il plays Hae-jun, a detective who falls for murder suspect Seo-rae, played by the spectacular Tang Wei. Seo-rae’s husband tumbled to his death (or was pushed?) while mountain climbing, and the evidence points to his wife, Seo-rae, as the culprit. Initially, at least. As he interrogates and voyeuristically spies on Seo-rae, sitting low in his car outside where Seo-rae visits an elderly client (she’s a nurse), or peering through her window at night as she eats ice cream for dinner and watches TV, Seo-rae becomes infatuated with the seductively beautiful widow he believes killed her husband. Hae-jun is married, but only sees his wife on weekends, and when Seo-rae’s alibi appears to free her from suspicion, Hae-jun’s attraction to her only further deepens. A romantic connection sparks between them well before the whole truth has unraveled, and more than one other person has been killed. 

Less brazenly lurid but as narratively tricky as Park’s last film, “The Handmaiden” (2016), “Decision to Leave” picks up and runs with that film’s vibrant aesthetics, “run” being the operative word: Park’s romantic neo-noir moves at a rapid clip through its different sub-plots (there’s another case Hae-jun is working) and immaculately designed settings (dusky police stations, a sharp cliffside with a lonely tree atop it, a foggy, jaggedly rock-strewn ocean shore). As magnificent as the stylized, pastel-hued images that cinematographer Kim Ji-yong captures is the way editor Kim Sang-bum nimbly brings shots together, often through invigorating jump cuts. So while the mystery’s wrinkles multiply and layers of desire are pulled back, both the story and the film’s form carry an idiosyncratic, intoxicating allure.

“Decision to Leave” Trailer

“Decision to Leave” screened as part of the 2022 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Michael Clawson is a member of the Seattle Film Critic Society you can follow his passion for film on Letterboxd.

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