Decision to Leave Review

5/5 Falcons

Jaeyi Song, Contributing Writer

Decision to Leave is a resounding hit that delivers a heartbreaking and sensitive story of love wrapped up in a crime thriller. South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook has been critically acclaimed for his works which explore the human psyche through dark humor and stunning cinematography. His trademark style can also be seen in movies such as Old Boy (2003)

The film revolves around an ambitious and upright detective named Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) who investigates the death of a man in the mountains. He subsequently meets Seo-rae (Tang-Wei), who is the widow of the dead man. Although his professional and moral code prohibits him from doing so, he develops feelings for Seo-rae, who happens to be the main suspect in the man’s murder. 

Although the characters may seem one-dimensional, they are far from it. Despite Hae-joon’s prodigious detective work and professional success, he suffers from insomnia. To many, he seems to have the perfect life; he has a beautiful and intelligent wife as well as a smart son. Meanwhile, Seo-rae may seem like the typical femme fatale, but she too is multi-dimensional and complex. She works as a caretaker for the elderly, bringing a soft touch and genuine empathy to her character. Even more surprising is her love for soap operas and ice cream. In these ways, both characters subvert expectations and stereotypes. Their romance is also interesting because it is debatable whether they were mutually in love, or if it was only Hae-joon.

In many ways, Decision to Leave is the perfect movie for our times.

There is also another complex underlying message in the film. Seo-rae is an illegal immigrant from China, but it is also revealed that her grandfather served as a soldier in Korea against Japan and received official honors. This background makes the watcher ponder about existence and belonging; who are we, and where do we belong? There is no right answer, but the movie offers various methodologies of thinking in reply.

Even though Decision to Leave is an erotic thriller, it does so by unconventional means. Seo-rae and Hae-joon’s relationship is not X-rated and the main characters seldom kiss nor engage in romantic contact. Rather, they communicate in expressions, breaths, and small actions that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. The movie is multi-faceted and as complex as you want it to be; a cursory watch will have you in awe at the excellent pacing, stellar acting, and beautiful cinematography. A more in-depth view will have you captivated at the sheer level of detail and complexity. The cinematography, editing, and soundtrack are also beautiful. In particular, the movie features Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 which is renowned as a landmark work by the classical composer.

In many ways, Decision to Leave is the perfect movie for our times; it succeeds as a thriller and romance while also communicating a very realistic and needed message. Seo-rae and Hae-joon remind us that sometimes, the greatest display of love is sacrifice and restraint.

This article also appears in our November 2022 print edition.