Three years after Parasite another Korean guns for Oscar gold

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Decision to Leave
Roxy Theatre
Opens Friday 11
3.5 out of 5

Korean cinema is having a moment. It’s mature and complex. It feels unique (probably because almost everything else is superhero, but still). Following the well-deserved coronation of Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer), it’s now time for his compatriot Park Chan-wook to get his moment in the spotlight.

The man responsible for the modern classic Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and the little seen, delicious thriller The Handmaiden, returns with his most sophisticated film to date. Not his best, but good enough to be a dark horse in the upcoming award season.

Decision to Leave has all the classic elements of a noir film, with a dash of Hitchcock. A man falls to his death from a cliff near Busan. Was it accidental, or did someone push him? It’s up to police detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il, The Host) to determine. The obvious suspect is the deceased’s much younger wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei, Lust, Caution), a Chinese immigrant and caregiver for the elderly who doesn’t seem particularly upset by her husband’s high dive. Hae-joon finds himself drawn to her — Seo-rae is the only one who can treat his insomnia — just as motives begin to emerge.

Here lies the evil genius of Park: he treats the plot as a love story. To the audience, the crime only matters in relation to the couple. Will it spoil their shot at happiness?

Decision to Leave unfolds very deliberately (no self-respecting Korean film wraps things up in under two hours), but it rewards attention to detail. The story progresses not because of breaks in the case, but through emotional breakthroughs by damaged individuals.

Park Chan-wook is not an obtuse, inscrutable filmmaker but he doesn’t make it easy for viewers, either. His ending will launch a hundred theories. Alas, there is a correct answer — if you’ve been paying attention, that is. ■