What drives us to relentlessly pursue something to the point that it becomes an obsession? This is the question at the heart of Park Chan-wook’s latest film Decision to Leave (2022). Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) demonstrates his obsessive nature with work, as a detective who spends most of his time investigating cases in Busan so much so that he stays on stake-outs simply because he can’t sleep, rather than returning home to his wife in their suburban home in Ipo. His obsession with work takes a new turn when a man is found dead after falling off a mountain, and his wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei) becomes a suspect. It becomes clear to the audience, Hae-joon’s partner, and Seo-rae that his obsession may be more on her than the case he is tasked with investigating.
Audience members who have seen Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003) or The Handmaiden (2016) will likely anticipate the narrative of Decision to Leave to not be that straightforward. The investigation into the man who fell off the mountain isn’t the focus of the just over two-and-a-half-hour runtime, but only the first half or so. The relationship between Seo-rae and Hae-joon is the heartbeat of the story. The chemistry between the actors is powerful, and the blossoming relationship feels so natural that it’s easy to see how this workaholic can so blindly fall into this bad situation. Her beauty beguiles him, but it’s much more than her appearance. There is empathy to her story, the history of abuse documented by her X-rays, and her general kindness towards the elderly whose care she is entrusted with that make it easy to see why Hae-joon’s judgment gets clouded.
Besides the twisting and turning story and the powerful romance between these two incredible actors, I loved this movie’s visual style. We see Hae-joon watching Seo-rae through binoculars on a stake-out. Suddenly, he is “with” her in the apartment, at her job, etc., but he is really still watching from the car. It’s a great visual representation of his mind while on a stake-out. He feels like he is in the room, and truly observing these things. It also expresses his desire to be with her, and, even if he can’t act on his desires – to just be in the same space would bring him so much joy. Edits in the film utilize match cuts to jump through time in compelling ways as well. We see our character in one space, and suddenly we have whisked away through a cut to another time.
Park Chan-wook is an auteur filmmaker whose name on a project will always bring to it. I didn’t know anything about this film, but seeing it was his I was already intrigued to see what journey he would take me on. I didn’t read anything about it going in, and I was not disappointed with the ride he supplied. While it does drag on a little bit too long, I was engaged with every aspect of the film, from production design, cinematography, performance, and writing – with writing standing out. Decision to Leave earns the Must See rating.