A Romance Veiled in Mystery

by Liam Trump ‘24

On a South Korean mountaintop, two detectives are scaling its side, intent on surveying the scene of a new presumed murder. Reaching the summit and nearly out of breath, Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) and his partner Soo-wan (Go Kyung-pyo) make it upon the crime scene. The camera cuts to a wide shot as the detectives stand atop overlooking the evidence. At the base, a dead man lies, with none the wiser of whether this was an accident or if something much more sinister was afoot. Taken aback by the odd circumstances, the detectives weigh out their options of suspects and come to the conclusion that there is only one: the now widowed Seo-rae (Tang Wei).

Park Chan-wook’s latest film Decision to Leave is a strikingly unique take on the traditional mystery narrative. Through dynamic cinematography, break-neck pacing, and an engaging score, Chan-wook weaves together a story brimming with originality and creativity.
The main storyline follows Hae-Joon as he attempts to solve a murder case, the only known suspect being the victim’s wife Seo-rae, a Chinese immigrant who was seemingly abused both physically and psychologically by her late husband. The two of them eventually fall in love, but their bond becomes increasingly strained as the investigation continues.

Hae-il and Wei present this unorthodox romance with performances that come across as almost effortless. Their relationship is very well written as Hae-il nails his role as a man in over his head; shown immediately as the youngest inspector in Busan’s police department. Wei, on the other hand, brings about a different side of their relationship, hiding her true emotions in many scenes and shrouding her intentions in mystery which adds a nice contrast to Hae-il’s more simplistic character.

Jumping from flashbacks to montages to the current story, Chan-wook keeps the main narrative from becoming stale. The camera always seems to be moving, allowing for fluid scenes that make great use of the thrilling set pieces. Along with that, both the licensed songs and the music scored for the film add to the overall entertainment value and heighten the tone of whichever sequence they’re placed in. With a story as layered as the one in Decision to Leave, a lot of care needs to be put into the presentation, which the entire crew, from cinematographer Ji-yong Kim to composer Yeong-wook Jo, handled with competence.

While it doesn’t have quite as much stylistic excess as Chan-wook’s previous movies such as Oldboy or The Handmaiden, Decision to Leave still provides a fascinating look into deception as it relates to romantic relationships. A lot of the film’s influence can be pointed to older Hitchcock films, but with a modern setting, Decision to Leave becomes a whodunit unlike any other.

Grade: A