Decision to Leave

Decision to Leave

26/10/22

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

A new release from Park Chan-wook is always a cause for celebration, but anyone expecting the unbridled sexuality of The Handmaiden may be surprised to learn that Decision to Leave is a much more chaste affair. Yes, there’s passion here, but it’s portrayed almost entirely in words (in some cases via a Chinese-Korean translation app) and in discreet sidelong glances.

Workaholic Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is summoned to investigate the death of a mountain climber who has fallen from a great height. But did the man jump or was he pushed? Suspicion soon falls on his Chinese wife, Seo-rei (Tang Wei), and Hae-jun, who is already suffering from chronic insomnia, starts to spend his nights surveilling her. He follows her around Busan, studies her routines and chronicles her every move. And then he begins to realise that he is falling in love with her and that what began as professional interest is turning into something much more compelling…

This is one of those films where it would be criminal to give too much of the plot away – and besides, the ensuing story is so labyrinthine, so full of unexpected twists and turns, it would be pretty much impossible to do that even if I wanted to. Armchair detectives will have a field day trying to figure out the mysteries wrapped up in this story and I’m fairly certain that very few are likely to guess at the baffling solution to this strange, enigmatic puzzle of a film.

Park Chan-wook’s distinctive visual style – aided and abetted by cinematographer Kin Je-yong – is to the fore throughout and, as ever, he relishes playing tricks on the viewer, constantly tinkering with our perceptions and expectations. Both the leads dazzle in their roles, and are ably supported by a fine cast, particularly by Lee Jung-hyun as Hae-jun’s statistic-obsessed wife, Jung-an – but this is essentially a two-hander.

With a running time of two hours and nineteen minutes, I do occasionally find myself wishing that the pace wasn’t quite so glacial, but the great director has never been one to hurry himself over anything and, despite my reservations, Decision to Leave manages to hold me in a powerful grip right up to its chilling final frame.

4 stars

Philip Caveney