Cannes 2022: Park Chan-wook's Decision To Leave is a riveting watch packed with delightful twists and turns

Cannes 2022: Park Chan-wook's Decision To Leave is a riveting watch packed with delightful twists and turns

Cannes 2022: Park Chan-wook's Decision To Leave is a riveting watch packed with delightful twists and turns

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Language: Korean

An insomniac investigator and an alluring suspect are caught in a web of romance in this Park Chan-wook directed Korean detective thriller romance, screened in the competition section of Cannes Film Festival. It’s a stark departure from Park’s violent revenge drama Oldboy or his 2017 erotic thriller The Handmaiden. But the necessary hallmarks of Park’s oeuvre remain unchanged; clever screenplay (with co-writer Chung Seo-kyung), well etched out characters played by extraordinarily talented actors - all painted on a visually rich canvas packed with delightful twists and turns.

One day in the life of Busan based detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), the case of an expert mountain climber falling to his death reaches his desk. While Hae-joon and his team get on with the investigation, upon reaching the location, it becomes clear there’s foul play involved. Hae-joon brings in the widow Seo-rae (the magnetic pull of this narrative, played by the Chinese actor Tang Wei) for questioning and her nonchalance raises a few eyebrows among the detectives.

The mysterious Seo-rae who volunteers as an elderly care nurse becomes a suspect with Hae-joon taking the job of tailing her. Before he realizes it, the suspect’s seductive magnetism makes him quickly falls headlong. Hae-Joon is however a married man in what was once a happy relationship now turned stagnant, with his wife Jung-an (Lee Jung-hyun) who still believes in the marriage.

As the expressive-faced Seo-rae with soulful eyes, full lips and a questionable past enters his life, it takes no time for Hae-joon to be preoccupied with her. It helps that he’s staking out her apartment for more clues on her involvement in the murder.

Hae-joon is afflicted by helplessness when he finds himself in the conundrum of falling for an enigmatic suspect who seems to reciprocate his feelings. But is she doing so to manipulate him to absolve herself? When things threaten to go south and he moves on with his own life to the different suburb of Ipo, in an attempt to save his marriage, out stumbles another murder case on to his desk. The timing could be worse - he had just met Seo-rae with her new husband at the fish market in Ipo. Could this be related?

Plot twists and sexual tension punctuate the rest of the narrative as Hae-joon navigates the treacherous waters of obsession and psychological intrigue carrying it to the final reveal.

Tang Wei’s Seo-rae is the undisputed queen of Decision to Leave, infusing the screen with enigmatic charm that it’s impossible to not fall for her ways. She handles her role like a puppet master, restraining and letting loose the strings whenever needed, just like the manipulative Seo-rae she’s playing. With Tang Wei’s electrifying screen presence, it becomes easier to convince the audience Hae-joon is completely in the right to fall for her. The Chinese actor’s earlier performance in the Ang Lee 2007 drama Lust, Caution, captured the world’s attention.

Park’s aesthetics are decisively slick, catalyzing the film’s pace – minimalistic lighting, snow falling in the dead of night with streaks of light illuminating it, and clever positioning of multiple clues amplified by visually appealing shots. Most of it is thanks to cinematographer Kim Ji-yong’s camera that knows its positioning to amplify plot tension all the while capturing stunning visuals, perfect example of this being the brilliantly evocative climax scenes.

At a running time of 2.18 hours, the watertight writing in Decision to Leave never allows tedium to set in. It’s a nod to Park Chan-wook’s masterful versatility, who earlier confessed in a magazine interview on the sidelines of the festival that the film is, “not what people expect from me.”

In the end, despite everything – mesmerizing acting, breathtakingly paced narrative, strongly realized characters – when the film reaches the somewhat protracted finale, it’s hard to shake off the feeling of lingering dissatisfaction. Perhaps that’s the point because the unattainably fatalistic pull – restrained enough to frustrate – between its lead is still a delicious mystery and leaves room for deliberate inconclusion. Nonetheless, Decision to Leave is a dependably immersive piece of fine cinema from the Korean auteur’s stable.

Rating: * * * * (four stars)

Prathap Nair is an independent culture features writer based in Germany.

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