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Decision to Leave

Moho Film, 2022


Park Chan-wook / Park Chan-wook and Chung Seo-kyung

Reading Time:

4 minutes

Decision to LeaveHaunted Romance (9OGOZYCCB7PWGYD3)
00:00 / 05:02

📷 : Used with permission, CMB Graphic Design

Decision to Leave


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Mysteries or whodunnits


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Movies and TV shows with great visual effects

Chris Chaisson


Stories of romance, regardless of book, movie or series, often tug at the heart strings with melodramatic actions that are not actually relatable (and in some cases, ill-advised). While audience members may have experienced passionate flings, they likely have never hung from a Ferris wheel or laid down in the middle of the road to win someone’s heart (see The Notebook). Grand romantic gestures like these appear and reappear in movies for a reason; they work when it comes to engaging the audience. Watching lovers be rational is considerably more boring than seeing them run back on to a sinking ship, draw each other naked or hold up a blaring boombox outside their bedroom windows. Nonetheless, it can be refreshing to experience a romantic narrative that steers clear of such over-the-top, unhinged expression. Despite incorporating surreal elements and a shocking conclusion, Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) pulls off such a feat in his newest work, Decision to Leave.

Set in metropolitan South Korea, Decision to Leave tells a story of forbidden love surrounding Jang Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), an accomplished investigator assigned to solve the murder of a rock climber. The chief suspect is the victim’s widow, Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), a caretaker who emigrated from China. Despite his marriage and Song’s seemingly obvious guilt in the murder, Jang becomes deeply infatuated with her. His conflict of interest heightens as the evidence against her continues to mount, negatively affecting his decision-making.

Jang’s brilliance and professionalism as a detective is laid bare in the early stages of the film, highlighting how much his desire for Song compromises his integrity. He picks up numerous clues from the crime scene at the beginning and excels at handling adjacent cases. Not only does he chase down and apprehend a suspect from another case, he effectively cross-examines the man at the police station. However, as the plot progresses with his main case, he overlooks damning evidence, both concrete and circumstantial, pointing at Song’s culpability. His dishonesty to his wife surrounding the chief suspect adds to his list of bad decisions, as he eventually struggles to keep up with his own lies. 

Park Chan-wook, who won Best Director at Cannes Film Festival for this romantic thriller, makes many interesting stylistic choices throughout the movie. For instance, he depicts Jang as being in close proximity with Song several times when he is either on the phone with her or staking her out from a distance. Chan-wook also incorporates a language barrier between the two leads into the story, which they must overcome in order to have a stronger connection. When he first interrogates her, Jang and Song must use a translator app, as Song’s Korean is not the strongest. This barrier evolves into Jang trying desperately to learn her native tongue. Whereas most romantic stories involve a night of passion or montage of tactile experiences, our two leads in Decision to Leave have no physical relationship for much of the movie, placing all the emphasis on their emotions. 

Chan-wook does a superb job of using the supporting characters to intensify the romance between Jang and Song. Jang’s partner, Soo-wan (Go Kyung-Pyo) serves as the comedic relief by cracking jokes and struggling with the physical duties of law enforcement. During several scenes, Jang either carries Soo-wan along or leaves him behind when pursuing suspects and evidence. Jang’s wife, Jeong-ahn (Lee Jung-hyun) has a demanding career of her own and thus rarely spends time with Jang. She speaks very practically to him about their relationship, quoting statistics about behaviors they should adapt in order to live longer and healthier. The absence of romance between them, coupled with the comedic presence of Soo-wan, contrast sharply with the deep longing between Jang and Song. 

Billed as a romantic thriller, Decision to Leave delivers much more on the side of romance than thriller. Even in doing so, creative story and shot choices convey intimacy without absurdity. Rather than engaging in exaggerated gags that convey obsession instead of love, Jang’s desire comes through in very relatable ways, mainly poor decision-making. While this is not to talk down the more theatrical approach to romantic storytelling, Decision to Leave may provide you a breath of fresh air from the many Romeo and Juliet-styled yarns that line our DVD library shelves.

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