Review by Sean Boelman
Anytime Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook puts out a new film, you know it is going to be the talk of the town. While Decision to Leave might be one of the filmmaker’s lesser outings due to somewhat generic writing, his skill as a craftsman behind the camera allows it to be thoroughly entertaining regardless.
The movie follows a detective investigating a mysterious death when he meets and forms an obsession with the dead man’s alluring wife. Whereas many of Park’s films start with familiar tropes and turn them on their head, Decision to Leave just has a very straightforward narrative, which ends up weighing it down quite a bit.
At around two hours and twenty minutes in length, the movie is still quite entertaining even though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Park is known for tautly-paced thrillers, and this is no exception. Despite the fact that the story is hardly as engrossing as many of the other films he has made, he’s still a damn good filmmaker, and he can’t make a bad movie.
The thing that the film most suffers from is a compelling central mystery. The story feels too derivative of other movies that we have seen before to keep the audience guessing, but it also doesn’t feel like a throwback. The most obvious comparison is probably Basic Instinct and the dozens of other copycat films there have been since.
With this, the character development in the movie also feels rather generic. The protagonist is a pretty plain well-to-do cop who is torn between his duty and his heart, and his love interest is a very standard femme fatale. Their arcs are entirely familiar and follow the conventions beat-for-beat.
Still, the acting is strong and allows the film to be elevated beyond its often bland screenwriting. Park Hae-il and Tang Wei bring a good deal of emotion to both of their roles, allowing the movie to feel much less cold. Park Hae-il, in particular, is able to exude a charisma that allows him to feel like a leading man detective of the ‘90s.
Additionally, from a technical aspect, the film is undeniably one of the year’s strongest. This is where the movie benefitted the most from having Park’s adept hand behind the camera. Even when the script leaves something to be desired, Park is able to draw the viewer back in with a transfixing score, editing, and cinematography that are all some of the finest, most ambitious achievements in filmmaking this year.
Decision to Leave has a script that is just alright elevated to a notable level thanks to strong direction from Park Chan-wook. Had anyone else directed this, it probably would have disappeared on streaming or VOD, but Park’s hand makes it worth watching.
Decision to Leave screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, which ran September 8-18.