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  • Nate Adams

'Decision to Leave' review: Park Chan-wook helms pulpy neo-noir thriller

Courtesy of Mubi


Digging his heels into a different type of sandbox than what his filmography might suggest, Park Chan-wook’s “Decision to Leave,” is a slick neo-noir murder mystery with a tinted love story baked underneath. The Seoul born filmmaker doesn’t redefine romantic triangles or mischievous detective stories, but “Decision to Leave” develops complex emotions around a Hitchcockian approach, unraveling its secrets and leaving the viewer in a state of puzzlement. You might guess where the inevitable endgame is headed, but it doesn’t make the journey to get there any less inviting.

The line between reality and fiction is often blurred for veteran officer Hae-jun (Park Hae-II – outstanding) who’s recent case assignment has sent him buzzing. He’s tasked with investigating the apparent suicide of a middle-aged mountain climber who, at first glance, may have slipped. His gorgeous young widow, an alluring femme fatale named Seo-Ray (Tang Wei) becomes an obvious suspect after showing no signs of remorse. Something that intrigues Hae-jun who, instead of staying home and fixing his tumultuous marriage, spends restless nights scoping out her movements and phone records until the relationship quickly evolves from anything but professional courtesy.

“Oldboy,” “Thirst,” and “The Handmaiden” explored various genres from action, monster, and drama, so by comparison “Decision to Leave” is arguably Chan-wook’s most restrained and, possibly his sweetest? There’s a soft tenderness that’s hard to ignore as cinematographer Ji-yong Kim captures the busy streets of Busan, South Korea, and its nightlife in a new shade of grey (and sometimes fog). Yeong-wook Jo’s score is equally as brooding, festering in the background while Hae-jun navigates a city overrun with hardened criminals and newfound emotions that are both exciting and curious.

The main hook of the film might be the central mystery, except there’s no denying the intricacies Chan-wook and co-writer Seo-kyeong Jong explore. “Decision to Leave” thrives on the personal modifications which help sustain the primary storyline, but the quirky supporting characters, debates around which restaurant has the better sushi, and the layered side conversations elevate it beyond the scope of your average noir-inspired thriller. This is a world encapsulated with vivid qualities and dense landscapes where mayhem can strike at any point and colors fade over time. Nobody will say this is Chan-wook’s crowning achievement, but it’s an amazing film worth sticking around for.

Grade: B+

DECISION TO LEAVE is now playing in limited release and expands to further markets (including Detroit) on October 28th. 


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