FilmReview

Decision to Leave review: A dazzling piece of cinema

Feverish, discombobulating South Korean riff on Hitchcock’s Vertigo

Decision to Leave
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Director: Park Chan-wook
Cert: 15A
Genre: Murder Mystery
Starring: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il
Running Time: 2 hrs 19 mins

The South Korean master returns with this, feverish, discombobulating riff on Hitchcock’s Vertigo. When an experienced mountain climber is discovered at the bottom of a cliff, ants crawling definitively over his eyeballs, Busan-based detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) gets on the case. A good, diligent cop who prioritises his profession over goes the wife he sees only at weekends, his life is upended by his prime suspect.

After summoning Seo-rae (Lust Caution’s Tang Wei) to the police station, Hae-joon is struck by her decided lack of grief. “I worry when he does not come back from a mountain, thinking he might die at last,” she says coolly. Perhaps she didn’t mean “at last”. Perhaps the Chinese caregiver’s imperturbable expression is rooted in wavering Korean or cultural misunderstanding. Or is that a smile creeping across her face?

Thus begins a strange, obsessive romance, one that is characterised by stakeouts and suspicion. Seo-rae, who was abused by her possessive husband, has a motive and an alibi. The latter does not satisfy Hae-joon. Is he being forensic or paranoid? Director Park’s script – co-written by Jeong Seo-kyeong – keeps us guessing. The weary protagonist’s even wearier wife sighs: “‘You suspect a lot of innocent people, honey.”

Another director might have fashioned Basic Instinct from such voyeuristic clay. Park dances with the material. Eschewing sex in favour of simmering sensuality, Decision to Leave coalesces into an intricate ballet between the main characters, Park’s careful choreography and Kim Ji-yong’s acrobatic camerawork.

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For all his poor choices and bad decisions, one could watch Park Chan-wook regular Park Hae-il stalk Tang Wei, who was equally enigmatic as the femme fatale in Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, through an entire series of movies. While the film doesn’t quite rank among Park’s best work, it’s not far off. A dazzling piece of cinema and a satisfyingly unsatisfying romantic mystery.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic