Decision to Leave (aka Heojil kyolshim) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Park Chan-wook continues to deliver some of the best films out there that are as enthralling to follow as they are dazzling to watch. It’d be easy for this crime thriller to feel far too standard with its tale of forbidden love and dark desires amid murder and investigations. And yet Chan-wook manages to craft this type of film like no other director, loading it up with unforgettable performances and eye-popping visuals.
Hae-Jun is a detective working in Busan while his wife resides in Ipo. He only visits his wife a few times a week and can’t sleep. Many cases continue to haunt him as he devotes a more profound devotion to solving murders. His latest one happens to involve a husband falling off a cliff. The victim’s wife, Seo-Rae, becomes a prime suspect as a Chinese immigrant and has a questionable alibi amid her interviews. The investigation ultimately leads to writing off the victim who had killed himself. However, Hae-Jun takes more interest in Seo-Rae, forming a romantic bond. The relationship benefits Hae-Jun, given that his insomnia seems cured by her gentle voice and touch. But is Seo-Rae just using Hae-Jun for her benefit of covering up the case?
Visually, this film is fantastic. There’s exceptional quality placed in how every shot is staged. The reflection perfectly punctuates the interrogation in the mirrors and TV monitors that brilliantly switches focus to change the shape of the conversation. Scenes transition almost like hazy dreams, wonderfully showcasing how Hae-Jun seems never to be able to sleep and exists entirely within a dream he’s trying to decipher. There are so many long shots that showcase the vast emptiness that Hae-Jun occupies. His phone calls with Seo-Rae are portrayed as him being right there in the room with her, highlighting how close he grows to her.
The investigation that unfolds is incredibly intriguing, for the many layers peeled back as it progresses. Seo-Rae becomes quite the enigma for her immigration status, relationship with her mother, questionable work in caring for old people, and how she navigates Korean society. Her gaps make her a compelling case for Hae-Jun as he contemplates his marriage and mental state. There are daring chases, showdowns, stakeouts, and office exchanges that are exceptionally staged. I particularly dug a rooftop chase sequence placed over narration of further divulging the case at hand.
The tragic romance that develops also becomes a high point of the film. The relationship between Hae-Jun and Seo-Rae feels somber and built on a specific need beyond just a sleep aid and a clear name. Seo-Rae grows increasingly desperate, where murders become a cry for help and feelings of love are hard to fight off in the mundanity of police work and abusive relationships. The final shots are some of the most tragic for the ultimate fate of the cop and his lover, torn in their relationship.
Decision to Leave is an unforgettable detective drama that touches deep down into the longing for more like no other film. It’s also a stunning picture of how Park Chan-wook creates a dreamy world of deep sadness amid provocative imagery and shots perfectly fitted for this thriller. Far more than just eroticism, this is a stunning Korean thriller that is easily one of the best neo-noirs of the 2020s.