Decision to Leave is one of Park Chan-wook’s most muted works – notwithstanding its arresting set-pieces, panache and controlled stylistic flamboyance – given its relative lack of operatic flourishes. But its theme of dark and self-destructive obsessions, along with its formal palette that was marked with extreme precision – with sprinkles of twisted playfulness thrown in – made this gradually unfolding neo-noir an intriguing new turn for the South Korean maestro. One might also credit that turn to The Little Drummer Girl, his compelling slow-burn adaptation to TV of John le Carré’s Cold War thriller. Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) is an insomniac police detective in Busan in a tenuous marriage. His dull, workaholic and largely solitary existence experiences an electrifying jolt when he takes on the investigation of a retired immigration worker who’s found dead at the foot of a cliff that he loved climbing. His doubts about the cause of death – was it an accident or suicide or homicide – turn into an obsession when he meets Seo-rae (Tang Wei), the victim’s cold, enigmatic, enticing, impossibly alluring and significantly younger widow who’d illegally emigrated from China many years back, works at a centre for elderly care, and harbours tantalizing secrets. Though Hae-jun becomes convinced that Seo-rae has killed her husband, the brilliant but heavily repressed cop – reminiscent of Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct – finds himself inexorably drawn to this stunning woman against his best judgements. Despite some of its narrative contrivances and relatively weaker 2nd half, this moody Hitchcockian thriller – boasting of an absorbing turn by Wei, gorgeous production designs, seductive use of Jung Hoon-hee’s song ‘Mist’, and impish play on the slippery nature of languages – made this a gripping, addictive and oftentimes enthralling crime thriller.
Director: Park Chan-wook
Genre: Crime Thriller/Post-Noir/Romantic Noir/Police Procedural
Country: South Korea