Elvis Presley famously sang about ‘suspicious minds’ in 1969. 53 years later Korean film maker Park Chan-Wook seduces our eyes with crimes of the heart in his latest thriller, Decision To Leave. Now arrived on MUBI, soon to Blu-ray in a couple of weeks.
Suspicious minds run amok in Chan-Wook’s first theatrical release in over 6 years (The Handmaiden being that last feature). A film that is as much a thriller as it’s a romantic drama, steeped in intrigue as well as flirting with death.
Can you trust anyone?
There is no such thing as a ordinary film from the Korean auteur, nothing is ever straight forward. This is the man who gave us Oldboy, JSA, Thirst and Stoker. All unique films, not always the easiest films to explain without stepping into spoiler territory.
In Decision To Leave, we find a cop on a mountain investigating in what looks to be a murder. A climber has fallen to his death or was he actually pushed over the edge? Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il), has one person on the scene, the dead man’s wife.
Seo-Rae (Tang Wei, Ang Lee’s Lust And Caution) is calm and collected now widowed. She is Chinese and her Korean language skills are limited, does she truly understand what is going on?
She is now become the main suspect and Hae-jun even asks her if she knows what Suspect means? No matter her answer the chief investigator of the case is slowly becoming obsessed with Seo-Rae. Possibly falling in love with her.
Hae-jun is the youngest detective at his station, to take charge of this case. He’s seen as a bit of ‘virtuoso’ in his department. He treats the mountain area as the crime scene, trying to be in the shoes of the victim. Understanding his surroundings (reconstructing them mentally too) and what scenarios led to the man’s demise. He’s like Colombo minus the shabby raincoat, acting oddly surprising everyone at the end with piece by piece answer.
Our kid detective also finds himself in a soulless marriage. Insomniac married to the job more and why Seo-Rae becomes that obsession. His wall of unsolved crimes showcase he won’t sleep until they are all solved.
The closer the pair get, Hae-jun is moving further away from that line of morality. He has to compromise especially that his new flavour of the month is getting preferential treatment.
Seo-Rae’s own past is complexed, complicated life is tied up in her family’s political past. Even after splitting for over a year, when they both meet again she steps into the shops of a femme fatale. Decision To Leave has it’s roots Neo-Noir, The detective story, the romance, the noir merge blurring to something procedural.
Park Chan-Wook’s Decision To Leave pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock, he drags us into showing sympathy for Seo-Rae. Like many of the great film noirs, maybe he should not trust everything a pretty face says. They are called femme fatale for a reason.
Park Hae-il and Tang Wei on screen chemistry works and what we see on the screen is believable. Their romance feels questionable, when the pair meet over a year later you once again the questions feel unanswered. You could say it’s the director’s most romantic film to date.
Decision To Leave impact may not be as powerful as Park Chan-Wook’s previous films. It’s still a mesmerizing and alluring spectacle.
Crime, Drama | South Korea, 2022 | 15 | 12th December 2022 (MUBI), 9th January 2023 (Blu-ray) | Modern Films, MUBI | Dir. Park Chan-Wook | Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-Pyo, Jung Yi-seo