Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) was a police detective working in Busan. His wife Jung-an (Lee Jung-hyun) was a scientist working in a nuclear power plant outside the city in the foggy town of Lipo. Under that strain, their marriage was not working out too well. He had very bad insomnia and have had near accidents on the road because of his severe sleep deprivation. He needed eye drops for his dry eyes, and a breathing machine to help him sleep.
One day, a rich hiking enthusiast was found dead at the foot of a mountain. His Chinese widow Seo-rae (Tang Wei) came under investigation by Hae-jun. She said that she was caring for an elderly female patient in the nursing home at the time of her husband's death. Captivated by Seo-rae's beauty, Hae-jun was in denial that she could ever be guilty of murder, even if the evidence coming in seemed to incriminate her.
Beautiful Chinese actress Tang Wei's Seo-rae was a literal femme fatale. Tang is still best remembered for her courageous screen debut in Ang Lee's controversial "Lust, Caution" (2007) with Tony Leung. Tang's ageless beauty is perfect for her role here, striking and mesmerizing, irresistible to all men lying on points along the spectrum of virtue. Despite the intense story of forbidden love here, Tang did not show as much skin as she did in "Lust."
Park Hae-il's first gained attention when he played the third prime suspect with soft hands in Bong Joon-ho's certified classic "Memories of Murder" (1990). His Hae-jun is an everyman we can all empathize with. We feel his subtle fascination with the attractive femme fatale, so much as to defend her innocence against all odds. We feel his frustrations when this mysterious woman seemingly kept taunting him as much she taunted fate.
Director Park Chan-wook is responsible for some of South Korea's most memorable films. He is most famous for his perverted and violent opus "Oldboy" (2003), the centerpiece of his so-called "Vengeance Trilogy" which also included "Sympathy of Mr. Vengeance" (2002) and "Lady Vengeance" (2005). His other noted masterpieces include "Joint Security Area" (2000), "Thirst" (2009) and most recently, the bold and provocative "The Handmaiden" (2016).
"Decision to Leave" is Park Chan-wook's first film in five years which makes it a major event for South Korean and international film fans alike. Park's telling of this crime-mystery was very compelling, giving focus on an uncomfortable romance while everything else was left rather cloudy. We appreciate his innovative camera technique to capture the characters and scenery in a most aesthetic, riveting manner, even as it may not be at the level of his previous films.
"Decision to Leave" premiered in Cannes competing for the Palme D'or earlier this year. By the end of the festival, Park Chan-wook emerged victorious in the race for Best Director. This film had so much going for it, it was simply impossible not to expect a lot from it. However, these very high expectations may prove difficult for this moody film to satisfy fully. It never really became as complex or as rich as it was promised in its first act.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."