So many great filmmakers brought movies to Fantastic Fest this year. Much of whom, I have admired multiple films of theirs in the past. This year the festival screened new releases by Martin McDonagh, Luca Guadagnino, Ruben Östlund, and one South Korean director Park Chan-wook. All of these movies were no-brainer choices for me when it came time to plan my schedule, and none of them disappointed.
My absolute favorite of these films, and my absolute favorite of the festival, turned out to be Decision to Leave by Park Chan-wook. While I have admired several of the filmmaker’s movies (Oldboy, Thirst, Stoker, and The Handmaiden). I had yet to see a movie so nuanced and deliberate in its presentation by the filmmaker. Usually a Park Chan-wook movie features intense violence and very raw sexuality. However, Decision to Leave reflects a much more pensive and meditative side to the filmmaker.
Park Hae-il stars as Detective Hae-jun, a police officer dedicated to his work and career, but one who struggles to maintain a “normal” life with his wife Jung-an (Lee Jung-hyun). It seems as though Hae-jun isn’t exactly happy with his domestic life, but he still remains faithful to his wife. At the same time, Hae-jun seems to be married to his work and only seems to find satisfaction doing that. Things get rather complicated and tense when the Detective takes on a new murder investigation where the widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei) is the prime suspect. What makes the investigation more complicated is the fact that the detective and suspect share an attraction for one another.
Now, before anyone screams out, “Wait! That sounds like Basic Instinct!” That plot/story similarity is true, but the way the story plays out, as well as the characters get developed, couldn’t be more different. No, this movie is a slow-burn in all of the best ways. Written and directed by Park Chan-wook, who co-wrote with Jeong Seo-kyeong, Decision to Leave is a much more subtle affair (no pun intended). It is a character study of two people from different worlds and backgrounds who discover each other and find understanding and love, despite the circumstances surrounding that meeting. It is a mystery movie with a tragic love story for the ages.
It is an incredible movie to experience and is almost certain to find a place in my top ten movies of the year. It is an excellent example of skillful writing, direction, and acting all coming together to create something beautiful and haunting. Fans of Park Chan-wook really need to go see this latest offering. And for those unfamiliar with his movies, this is probably a great way to cut your teeth on his artistry.