Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave is likely exactly the movie Park Chan-wook meant to make: a narratively confusing, ever-shifting murder-thriller-romance-drama that defies convention and expectations. It’s also unfortunately a narratively confusing thriller of sorts that, despite a lot of merits, is more of a test of patience than it’s worth.
To dumb Decision to Leave down to its core, the movie has whiffs of Basic Instinct (minus all the fun stuff like sex, nudity, and Sharon Stone’s you-know-what), but this is a complex, expertly made, and boldly told experience from the director best known for the Vengeance trilogy (most notably Oldboy, and not that shitty American remake). Park’s film is innovative and unpredictable; he challenges the viewer to keep up and follow along.
This particular viewer had trouble keeping up.
There’s a lot to love about Decision to Leave. Challenging story aside, the cinematography by Kim Ji-Young and film editing by Sang-beom Kim are through the roof. Sensational. Explosive. The technicals at play here feel like a living and breathing member of the cast; few films elevate a screenplay so vividly. Decision to Leave is the kind of movie you don’t want to look away from for a moment for these reasons.
But the movie was a little too challenging for me. Park’s screenplay always seemed like a step ahead to me, but not in a “keep me guessing as to the mystery” kind of way. As Park digs deeper into his film, which runs a long-feeling 140 minutes, the biggest challenge becomes wanting to stay fully invested in the story.
Park Hae-Il and Chinese actress Tang Wei are exquisite together, their delicate dance often fascinating. Yet their interplay embodies the movie as a whole; it feels more like a tease than the main dish. Park lets his characters, and the story, poke and prod at various truths and questions, yet everything seems kept at arm’s length to frustrating results.
For those willing to invest the brainpower and concentration to truly appreciate Decision to Leave, I can only imagine how rewarding this viewing experience will be for them. But for little ol’ me, it’s a technically accomplishment that falls short of greatness.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.