Decision to Leave

A homicide detective (Park Hae-il) falls for a victim’s widow (Tang Wei) in this unprocedural thriller.

For his 11th feature, Park Chan-wook makes the bold decision to leave behind the twisted violence of Oldboy and Thirst in favour of a Vertigo-esque romantic noir. The dark comedy and psychological themes still linger, but Decision to Leave finds the Korean master exploring the obsessive side of whatever previously made his characters hellbent on violence. These are probably the most conventional subjects he has ever studied, yet they prove as intriguing as any vampire or cyborg.

Narratively it feels like a step down from The Handmaiden and Stoker, more just from missing story dynamics than his usual genre-busting plot twists. While the enigmatic drama is a welcome departure, the complicated and protracted mystery would likely drag were it not for his astounding visuals. Chan-wook works magic in this film, presenting impossible shots from the point of view of corpses, dead fish and mobile phones; front-row seats to perspectives that literally do not exist.

Kim Ji-yong’s beautiful cinematography guides the central duo through the fog, their touching (if unphysical) relationship pulling us into the picture’s beguiling depths as it meanders its way towards a shattering climax. There is a recurring motif whereby the characters breathe and the film somehow seems to breathe with them. It is a movie to inhale rather than swallow – or follow for that matter.

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