Decision To Leave (Review) – Park Chan-Wook Has A Basic Instinct

DIRECTOR: Park Chan-wook

CAST: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, Park Yong-woo, Jung Yi-seo, Kim Shin-young, Park Jeong-min, Seo Hyun-woo, Teo Yoo, Go Min-si, Lee Hak-joo, Yoo Seung-mok, Jeong Ha-dam

RUNNING TIME: 138 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A detective (Hae-il) falls for the wife (Wei) of a man whose murder he is investigating…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

For a filmmaker who’s known for rather violent and sometimes sexually explicit affairs like Oldboy and The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook’s latest film Decision to Leave is quite tame by comparison, especially for something that is being dubbed as an erotic detective story in the same vein as Vertigo and Basic Instinct. Those films it is not, but Chan-wook’s extremely stylish filmmaking certainly puts you in similar moods to them, and sometimes even overwhelms you with how astute its direction can be – however, a largely convoluted story does make it difficult to become fully invested in, no matter how hard it clearly wants you to try.

The film follows a South Korean detective, Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), who is investigating the mysterious death of a climber who apparently fell to his death from a mountaintop. The prime suspect is the victim’s wife, a Chinese woman named Seo-rae (Tang Wei), who claims to have married the much older South Korean gent, who happened to work in the immigrations department, for the extra security, but then allegedly suffered domestic abuse at his hands. Hae-joon, like Jimmy Stewart and Michael Douglas before him, slowly becomes captivated with his suspect, even when most of the evidence points to her being the culprit, but soon his infatuation with Seo-rae’s mystery and grace leads the two of them down an unpredictable, and possibly even more murderous, path.

I’ll be honest, there’s not a whole lot that I can say about this movie. I’d like to say that it’s because there are twists and secrets that are best left for your own viewing, but really it’s because I was struggling to stay awake for most of it; I saw this movie at an evening showing after a very early start, itself in the middle of a very busy week, so I was seriously fighting the crawling fatigue and tiredness that had suddenly decided to prevent me from fully concentrating on this movie. In that respect, this might not be the fairest review of Decision to Leave out there, since I wasn’t conscious enough to really pay attention to it, but from what I could gather whenever I would will myself to keep my eyes fixated on the screen, there seemed to be a fair amount of things that the film does fine, as well as things that didn’t work quite as well.

For one, it is a gorgeous film to look at, with some often breath-taking cinematography that compliments the eccentric style that Park Chan-wook usually brings to his work. From editing tricks to nifty camera movements, there usually is something to visually grab your attention (even my fatigued self was fighting to witness the stunning visuals), which makes watching some of the more mundane and less invigorating scenes more palatable. However, it is very much one of those style-over-substance movies, where the visuals really do make up for the fact that this is an unnecessarily complicated plot to follow. Chan-wook throws so many things at us with this story that it quicky becomes difficult to streamline what the bigger picture is, and why certain characters do particular things. Intimate scenes between two people will suddenly end before it can even allow the audience to identify with them, and soon we’re back to more fast-paced plotting that you just can’t begin to catch up with.

Perhaps it was the ultimate disconnect from the characters and the story that caused me to really lose focus (on top of the tiredness, of course), because I really wanted to get more sucked in to this world that Chan-wook has meticulously crafted, and yet it just wasn’t inviting enough for me to fully concentrate on what was happening. Again, maybe I’d have to be fully awake to really appreciate this movie, but even from the perspective of someone who’s half-asleep by the time they’re watching it, Decision to Leave perhaps shouldn’t be this difficult a puzzle to decipher.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Decision to Leave is a visually stunning, but narratively convoluted, detective thriller from director Park Chan-wook, whose stylish flare is certainly impressive but doesn’t quite manage to distract from a plot that is increasingly hard to piece together and characters who aren’t given enough time to seem well-rounded, even to viewers like myself who were honestly fighting sleep during it.

Decision to Leave is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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