The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - DECISION TO LEAVE | The Movie Waffler


A police detective falls for a widow he believes killed her husband.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Park Chan-Wook

Starring: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, Park Yong-woo, Jung Yi-seo

Decision to Leave poster

Like his 2013 English language debut Stoker, Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook's latest, Decision to Leave, is a throwback to Hollywood's golden age of 1930s-50s murder-mystery-melodramas. It might be described as an erotic thriller, and it takes a few cues from Basic Instinct, but this could have played for 1940s audiences with practically no interference from the Hays Code given its lack of any explicit sexuality. There's less canoodling between its romantic leads than Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman engaged in for Hitchcock's Notorious, yet it manages the difficult feat of being both erotic and romantic.

Decision to Leave review

Those romantic leads are Hae-jun (Park Hae-il), a detective investigating the death of a mountaineer who either fell, jumped or was pushed from a high cliff overlooking the Korean city of Busan, and Seo-rae (Tang Wei), the dead man's pretty Chinese immigrant widow. Hae-jun suspects foul play, his suspicions spurred by Seo-rae's seeming indifference to her loss. He's also wildly attracted to the young widow, and when the death is ruled a suicide, Hae-jun continues to investigate, spying on Seo-rae like a Peeping Tom.

Hae-jun's surveillance is so obvious that Seo-rae twigs him early on, but oddly enough, she seems flattered by the attention. The two begin spending time together (Hae-jun is married but his wife lives in another city) and fall in love. Hae-jun changes his mind regarding Seo-rae's guilt, even allowing her to destroy crucial evidence. But has his heart over-ruled his head? Is Seo-rae genuinely innocent or has she cleverly manipulated Hae-jun? That's a question the viewer is forced to ponder throughout Decision to Leave, and things get messier when further corpses start to appear.

Decision to Leave review

There's a lot of Hitchcock's Vertigo in Chan-Wook's film. Hae-jun is haunted by an incident in which he was powerless to stop someone from falling from a height, for one thing. But unlike other clones of Hitchcock's classic, Decision to Leave borrows its compelling character dynamic. Like James Stewart's Scotty Ferguson, Hae-il's Hae-jun is a rare depiction of a cop as an everyman. With his sad-eyed expression, he's an unconventional leading man, certainly for a romance, but Hae-jun is a good man and we see why Seo-rae, who has a history of relationships with assholes, might be attracted to him. The casting of the glamorous Wei means Seo-rae is a typically sexy femme fatale, but her appeal goes far beyond her beauty. Even if she looked like the back of a bus, Seo-rae would draw in a man like Hae-jun, a man old enough to know some things are far more attractive than superficial looks. In the film's most erotically charged scene, Seo-rae tucks Hae-jun into bed and teaches the insomniac detective a method for falling asleep. Not since Phantom Thread has the idea of a man being cared for by a woman been conveyed so romantically. Hae-jun and Seo-rae couldn't be further from the likes of Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, but their relationship is far more tangible.

Modern technology has become something of a scourge for writers of thrillers – think of how many times a movie has been forced to pull the "damn, no coverage" trick – but Chan-Wook embraces the conveniences and gadgets that rule our lives today. There's so much technology used here that if you showed the film to someone living in 1980 they would probably think it's a sci-fi movie and that Seo-rae will be revealed to be an android at some point. A large part of why it's so difficult to get away with crimes today is because our gadgets are constantly spying on us and revealing our movements. There's a striking sequence involving Hae-jun retracing the steps of a fitness app found on Seo-rae's phone, and a major plot point sees a character hang onto a potentially incriminating phone because it contains a recording of sentimental value. It's interesting how much of Hae-jun's investigation echoes the sort of actions employed by jealous lovers, with tracking apps secretly loaded on phones and footsteps recreated to figure out where a suspect might have travelled.

Decision to Leave review

The central premise of a cop falling for a suspect is hardly novel, yet Chan-Wook finds many ways to make it seem like it's the first time we've seen this dynamic play out in a fresh and relatable fashion. In an era where the workplace romance has become a taboo tantamount to harassment, Chan-Wook taps into the illicit thrill of his film's central courtship with his customary style. It's a forbidden romance, but one even the most uptight of viewers will struggle not to endorse.

Decision to Leave
 is on MUBI UK now.

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