Writer: Park Chan-wook and Seo-kyeong Jeong
Director: Park Chan-wook
This South Korean noir by Oldboy’s Park Chan-wook comes to Britain with posters full of stars. The tale of a male policeman obsessed with a female suspect certainly has its moments but it runs out of steam a long time before its conclusion.
Decision To Leave is at its best in the first half and its energy is a mixture of classic Hitchcock and the showiness of 1990s Oliver Stone. Narratives are spliced, actions sequences are breathlessly shot, and the femme fatale steals the limelight. Immediately thrown into the plot, the viewer must remain alert. It’s an exhilarating start.
But for all the early excitement, the film stubbornly fails to progress and by the time the action moves from Busan to the seaside resort of Ipo either Park has run out of gimmicks or the audience is so accustomed to them that his tricks lose their impact.
The story begins when a mountaineer is found dead at the bottom of a mountain. His death could easily have been an accident but detective Hae-jun is suspicious of the man’s widow, Seo-rae, who goes back to work the next day as if nothing has happened. As he investigates further he discovers that she is a Chinese immigrant and that her husband was an immigration officer. As Hae-jun digs deeper, he begins to believe that she is good for the murder but his suspicions are conflicted by a growing fondness for her that soon turns into an obsession.
Their interviews at the police station are, for all intents and purposes, dates. When they take a break from questions, Hae-jun orders the most expensive bento boxes from the local restaurant and after they’ve eaten she tidies up the utensils as if they are at home. At nights he stakes out her house; she catches him sleeping in his car and takes it as a declaration of love.
The two leads are good. Park Hae-il is the weary detective caught between his excitement in the city and the boredom at home with his wife who gossips about her work colleagues. Seo-rae is an intriguing character and, for a femme fatale, doesn’t seem too duplicitous. Tang Wei gives her a childlike glee and, then in the later parts of the film, a Hollywood glamour. But even though the relationship between the two characters is full of tension, the film is just too long for the story. It becomes difficult to care for either one of them, and the scenes in Ipo seem flabby compared to the agility of the camerawork in the film’s first half.
Not as violent as Oldboy and not as twisty as The Handmaiden, which was based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, Park’s newest film is a slight disappointment. It doesn’t live up to its promise or the stars on its poster.
Decision To Leave screens at the year’s BFI London Film Festival 2022