New Written Review from Mike Crowley on You’ll Probably Agree: Decision To Leave Takes An Unexpected Heartfelt Turn On The Noir Genre

Park Chan-wook directs a Korean masterwork of suspense that would make Alfred Hitchcock blush. Decision to Leave doesn’t play like the typical thriller. The suspense isn’t about the bomb under the desk or who did the killing. Park Chan-wook relies on creating layered characters who play more than the typical Detective or femme fatale. Everyone’s a flawed human who makes mistakes in an interweaving tale of pain, fear, and love. 

Detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is assigned to investigate the murder of a man pushed from atop a mushroom-shaped mountain. Although the death looks like possible suicide, it doesn’t seem likely. The prime suspect is the deceased’s wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei). Seo-rae, by all accounts, appears guilty. When placed in interrogation, Seo-rae takes glee from her husband’s death by grinning something chilling upon looking at the photos of his corpse. Although to her, it’s just a nervous reaction to her Korean being lost in translation. Seo-rae is a Chinese immigrant who illegally crossed into Busan, explaining the confusion at her inappropriate reaction. Still, who smiles at the death photos of her husband? 

When husbands get too slap-happy with their wives, some partners slap back. Whether or not Seo-rae is guilty of murder quickly becomes an afterthought to a love story about a Detective who falls head over heels for the departed’s wife. Living in a long-distance marriage turned loveless, Hae-jun only sees his wife on the weekends to have sex. Yet the intercourse is ungratifying, removing the love in lovemaking. Through Seo-rae, Hae-jun sees a part of his heart that his wife can’t fulfill. 

Being a detective takes a toll on one’s life. Hae-jun has developed insomnia and is numb to pain. Seo-rae comes from an abusive husband who’d keep her up at night. Living together with pain and fear, the Detective and the femme fatale tropes play more like character dissections thanks to the incredible cinematography by Ji-yong Kim. The picture has a cool color tone, resembling the death Hae-jun is constantly surrounded by. To keep himself awake, Hae-jun applies eye drops to himself, which intercuts to the missing pupils of a corpse. One shot is held at a medium distance, the other at an incredibly shallow depth of field, providing more emphasis on the lifeless eye. It’s a visual reminder of the fear the Detective lives with. One along the lines of “if I go to sleep, more people will be killed.” It’s the classic tale of a cop who can’t rest until the case is solved, yet, the love story is about agony. 

To sound like Jamie Lee Curtis on the Halloween Ends press junket, this movie is about trauma. What sets apart Decision to Leave from most Detective falling for suspect noirs is the content’s realism. Park Chan-wook is often known for hyperreality. Old Boy features one of the craziest single-take action scenes that gets replicated today throughout popular cinema, while The Handmaiden is a crime-fueled sexual fantasy. Decision to Leave is more about the actual effects of sex and violence. It’s about what happens to those who lose pleasure and forget pain. How does it actually form those classic characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck? 

The mystery behind the murder takes a backseat halfway through a tender love story. But the romance can’t last forever. When the case comes back to haunt the Detective, his love for the girl comes into question, as does his declining mental health. The picture plays more like a tragedy interjected with comedy. It’s a cumulation of radical styles that’s distinctly Park Chan-wook. Even when restrained, Chan-wook’s newest picture hardly loses steam or energy, demanding the viewer always to pay attention to the plot, even when its sleep-deprived Detective and critic are not. 

There’s a lot of information to digest. The length is a beefy two hours and eighteen minutes that hardly let up in pace. Like a noir thriller peeled with multiple layers, keeping track of all players can be challenging. A notebook keeping everyone’s name (especially if you’re an English-speaking dope like myself) may come in handy. There are many plot lines to juggle, yet none seem unnecessary. More details in the plot’s main case can make sense with repeat viewings. A tender love story interwoven within a complicated murder scheme, Park Chan-wook’s decision to leave is a noir that leaps the noir genre into modern cinema’s more delicate sensibilities. 

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