Decision To Leave, the new romantic noir from acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-wook, is built around an old Korean pop song, Jung Hoon-hee’s ‘Mist’. “It’s no use thinking about the memory of the past,” she sighs on the melancholy music. “Still, I’m eagerly longing for you in my heart.”
Those lyrics encapsulate the feeling at the heart of Park’s first film in six years – an oddly quiet detective drama with occasional outbursts of violence. Its two lead characters are unable to free themselves of the memory of each other, even as they betray, mislead and hurt each other, and – as is slowly revealed – the other is often behind their motivations, even when they’re apart.
Park Hae-il (Memories Of Murder) plays Hae-jun, an insomnia-suffering detective whose marriage to wife Jung-an (played by Lee Jung-hyun) has tiptoed into safe, boring territory. The excitement he’s lacking at home, he finds in his cases – particularly when a man is found dead in the mountains near Busan, unfurling a web of intrigue that Hae-jun quickly gets entrapped in.
The dead man is Ki Do-soo (Yoo Seung-mok), the husband of Song Seo-rae (Lust, Caution’s Tang Wei). When she finds out she is now a widow, Seo-rae’s response perplexes the police – she doesn’t cry, doesn’t appear perturbed at all, and merely asks if her partner’s death is “fate”. She soon reveals Do-soo was abusive towards her, but still all is not as it seems with the enigmatic woman who makes the movie so compelling.
Hae-jun begins to watch her, neglecting his marriage in the hopes that Seo-rae will lead him to some evidence that will reveal her as the true murderer. But as he spends night after night watching her through his windows, he becomes infatuated with her, not realising it until it’s too late. His obsession clouds his job, makes his sleep even more interrupted and, eventually, destroys his home life.
Just as Seo-rae is a puzzle to Hae-jun, so is Decision To Leave to the viewer. It goes off in twists and tangents, but not all of them add to the narrative. It’s the kind of film that feels like, even after multiple viewings, it will still seem like a mystery – leaving you second-guessing and questioning plot points and little moments.
What isn’t up for dispute, though, is how stunning the movie is. It already claimed the Best Director award for Park at Cannes earlier this year and the cinematography matches up to that acclaim. It’s both inventive and beautiful, whether putting you behind the eye sockets of the dead Do-soo or making Hae-jun’s fantasies of sitting next to Seo-rae in her house at night become reality, placing the imagined version of him beside her on screen, holding an ashtray for her crumbling cigarette, her oblivious to his spectre.
“Open your eyes in the mist,” goes another line in Jung Hoon-hee’s song, which pops up several times throughout the movie. It serves as both an instruction to Hae-jun and something you’ll feel is a losing battle watching Decision To Leave. The fog shrouds the storyline here, but makes it all the more intriguing and addictive.
- Director: Park Chan-wook
- Starring: Tang Wei, Go Kyung-Pyo, Park Hae-il
- Release date: October 21 (in cinemas)