After a man falls from a cliff and dies, troubled detective Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il) begins to think there may be more to his death than a simple, unfortunate slip. When he meets the dead man's beautiful wife Seo-Rae (Tang Wei), she is identified as the most likely suspect. As he investigates the case, he soon finds himself enamoured with Seo-Rae and begins to lose his perspective on both the case and his life...
Park Chan-wook's filmography has been marked by its decisive visual choices, its devilishly complex narratives, and the ability to weave together numerous genres into one flowing tapestry in an effortless fashion. You only need to look at 'Oldboy', his English-language debut 'Stoker', or 'The Handmaiden', which was a Korean adaptation of the novel 'Fingersmith' by Welsh author Sarah Waters. In every one of these, there is something truly spectacular going in terms of visuals and framing, but also in taking straightforward stories and providing them with elegant twists and turns.
'Decision To Leave' is, at a surface level, a relatively straightforward detective noir in the vein of 'Double Indemnity', where you have an icy femme fatale carefully manipulating the male lead into doing her bidding. Yet, in 'Decision To Leave', the relationship dynamic that exists is played backwards and forwards, with both parties - Park Hae-il and Tang Wei - shifting the power in their messed-up relationship from scene to scene. Park Hae-il's character is a hopeless, withered husk of a man, endlessly exhausted by the crimes he follows and his hum-drum domestic life. He's sleepwalking through everything, until he meets Tang Wei's character. It isn't that she's so full of life, or that he's drawn to her life of struggle. It's a nameless feeling, but exceptionally potent in a way that pulls him to her like a moth to the flame.
If there's a complaint to be made about 'Decision To Leave', it's that it isn't quite on the same level as the director's previous work, and admittedly, feels like a retread of things he's done in the past. Park's fascination with the work of Hitchcock is on full display here, meaning that it deliberately invites comparison rather than forging ahead with something unique.
That said, the movie switches things up constantly, never letting you think for a second that you've got a handle on it. It springs from murder mystery to romance, to political commentary on South Korea's past, to moments of levity and humour. Yet, in all of this, there's a silkiness to 'Decision To Leave'. It shouldn't work, as it's all so deliberately offbeat, but the way in which Park Chan-wook navigates the twists and turns is something to behold. When you watch it, there is such close attention paid to making it look beautiful in every single frame of it. It really is the best-looking movie of 2022 so far.
While it works off a familiar framework, the visual style and the strong performances are enough to carry 'Decision To Leave' far past any of these issues.