Movie Review: 'Decision to Leave' Among Best of 2022
Park Chan Wook's cop drama Decision to Leave weaves mystery, desire, and humanity.
Decision to Leave (2022)
Directed by Park Chan Wook
Written by Park Chan Wook
Starring Wei Tang, Park Hae Il, Lee Jung Hyung
Release Date October 14th, 2022
Published November 22nd, 2022
To be released on MUBI in December, 2022
On the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast we had a moment involving the Park Chan Wook movie Oldboy that became part of our show lore. The premise of our show has me, a professional critic, my co-host Bob, a music critic, and our friend Josh, your everyday movie fan, talking about movies. We talk about all of the new movies of the week and a classic. Oldboy was chosen as our classic the same week that Spike Lee released his inferior remake.
Myself and Bob were already huge fans of Oldboy while Josh had never seen it and knew nothing about it. As our conversation about the film progressed it slowly dawned on Bob and myself that Josh had missed an important plot point. There is a disturbing twist in the end of Oldboy and Josh had not picked up on it. Thus, to proceed with the conversation, we had to explain to Josh what the twist was and we did so delicately as to allow the twist to occur to him in real time. It's my favorite moment in the nearly 10 year history of the show.
I only bring that up as an example of the subtlety and brilliance of director Park Chan Wook. Anyone could have missed the twist in Oldboy and still have enjoyed the movie as Josh did. It only deepened for him after we told him what he missed. Missed signals, misunderstandings, and the role of what we want to hear versus what we actually heard, each play a role in Park Chan Wook's new movie, Decision to Leave. This gorgeous looking murder mystery thrives in the thin margin between desire and truth.
At the bottom of a mountain the body of a middle aged man is found. It appears to be an open and shut case, a climber falling from a significant height. Nevertheless, Detective Jang Hae Jung treats this like any other case, he will investigate it fully before he closing the case. Soon, what appears to be an open and shut case begins to take on new layers. Skin under the fingernails of the victim indicates perhaps they didn't fall but were pushed off of the mountain.
The much younger wife of the victim happens to have a cut on her hand and the DNA from the fingernails matches her. Song Seo Rae (Tang Wei) claims that she did not go climbing with her husband that day. She has an alibi that appears to be very sound. She is a victim of abuse, she's bruised and scarred and explains the cut on her hand and the DNA under her husband's fingernails as part of an argument the day he died when she refused to go climbing with him.
Open and shut case right? Detective Hae appears satisfied, though is that because he's attracted to Song Seo Rae? Despite his being married and her being a suspect, he finds himself fascinated with Song Seo Rae, especially after spending several days staking out her apartment. Song Seo Rae is a caregiver to the elderly and enfeebled and something about her manner with her patients soothes Detective Hae as well. He's always struggled to sleep but she manages to get him to fall asleep. She catches him watching her, part of his investigation, and invites him to watch her much more closely.
Where Decision to Leave goes from there is for you to discover. As I said, the story being told in Decision to Leave lives in the margins between what we want to believe, our desire, and what is true. Whether you desire that Song Seo Rae is not guilty of her husband's murder or whether she killed him is among the questions that plague us and could be the downfall of Detective Hae, an otherwise good man and dedicated investigator. The margin between desire and truth in this story is where Decision to Leave lives and breathes.
This being a Park Chan Wook movie, it contains a moment of shattering sadness. The final moments of the movie are incredible for the staging, the outsized emotions in play, and the devastating performance of one of our two leads as they search for the other. I don't want to spoil any aspect of this, thus my vague allusions, but I must praise the work of everyone that created this scene, the directing, acting and cinematography are superb. The beauty of the setting versus the sorrow of the ending is breathtaking.
Indeed, the whole production of Decision to Leave is flawless. The shot composition of Park Chan Wook is a highlight of all of his films and he along with cinematographer Kim Ji-yong have crafted perhaps their best looking film yet. The symmetry in the shot composition, the choice of colors, the attention to detail in the lighting of each scene, simply flawless. Every moment is composed beautifully. Park Chan Wook may be known for shocking twists and extraordinary violence, but don't let that fact overshadow the beauty he brings to all of his films. He's an undeniable visual master.
On top of being moving and gorgeous, Decision to Leave is intricately plotted. The rise and fall of reveals and distortions of the truth are symphonic in their precision. It's a symphony of desires and truths, lies and conflicted emotions. Decision to Leave is a thorough examination of complicated humans, one living in the gray areas of right and wrong and another desperately clinging to black and white conceptions of right and wrong and caught wavering. All of it builds to a final, heartbreaking crescendo that you will not see coming.
Decision to Leave is set to be released on the MUBI streaming platform in December of 2022. Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies on Twitter. Listen to me talk about movies on the Everyone's a Critic Movie Review Podcast. If you've enjoyed what you have read, please consider subscribing to my writing here on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing you can by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one-time. Thanks!