A hiker has fallen from a cliff to his death. Accident, suicide, or murder? Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), a by-the-book, insomniac detective who wears specially tailored suits—twelve pockets in the jacket, six in the pants—is called from Busan to investigate. He finds the widow, Seo-rae (Tang Wei), curiously undisturbed by the loss of her husband—and he finds himself irresistibly drawn to his number one suspect.
As Guy Lodge points out at Film of the Week, we’ve seen this story before. Out of the Past,Body Heat, and Basic Instinct are the first iterations that come to his mind. “So why does this one feel so fresh, so slinky, so genuinely unpredictable even as we recognize the rules of the game?” he wonders. Because, he suggests, “ornately and ingeniously plotted as it is,” Decision to Leave is “a wary, wounded love story first and a procedural puzzle second, powered by what seems a sincerely soulful attraction between two people who know nothing—but somehow see everything—of each other.”
Park Chan-wook, returning to the competition in Cannes after winning the Grand Prix in 2004 for Oldboy and the Jury Prize in 2009 for Thirst, is “very much doing his own thing,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney, “but his latest also benefits from stylish nods to Douglas Sirk, in its lush heights of melodrama and a gaze that frequently observes characters in mirrors, on computer monitors or through fragmenting screens; to Hitchcock in its teasing suspense and a heady spiral of romantic mystery that recalls Vertigo in particular; and even to Pedro Almodóvar in its attention to the ways design elements can shape character and story.”
Among the Hitchcockian elements Vulture’s Nate Jones picks up on are “the divided loyalties of Notorious and North by Northwest, the voyeurism of Rear Window and Psycho,” and “the shifting identities of Vertigo.” Hitchcock did not have the internet or cell phones to play with, of course, and in Variety,Jessica Kiang finds that “Park’s ability to lean into tech’s formal and thematic cinematic potential is little short of revelatory. From the agonizing delays in a text-message conversation to the role that audio and video recordings play in the emotional corkscrew of Park and Cheung Seo-kyung’s screenplay, there is a little kernel of profundity here, in the suggestion that the deathlessness of modern tech life has fundamentally changed the way we connect, the way we remember, the way we experience love and loss.”
At Little White Lies,Hannah Strong gives a special shoutout to production designer Ryu Seong-hie, “who creates a stunning contrast between the city and the rural and carves out distinct spaces which encapsulate the lonely, precise lives of the central characters. This is complemented by breathtaking cinematography from Kim Ji-yong, collaborating with Park for the first time but instantly finding a gorgeous rhythm—from over-the-shoulder camerawork during a foot chase between police and suspect to one particularly eerie shot of ants crawling over a corpse’s face.” The Telegraph’s Tim Robey notes that “the camera does things you’ve never seen before.”
As Seo-rae, a Chinese immigrant who speaks Korean with a meticulous clarity, Tang Wei “has bettered her iconic performance in Ang Lee’s 2007 spy drama Lust, Caution,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “She is effortlessly charismatic and (that overworked word) mesmeric; sexual but reserved, strong, capable, intimidatingly smart but bearing a poignant and unacknowledged emotional wound.”
Hae-joon is married, and if he wants to carry on seeing Seo-rae, the case will have to remain open. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich finds that Park “leverages the killings (plural!) into a gripping investigation of a mystery that no police department could ever hope to solve: How does a romance survive between two people whose only hope for a future together depends upon them leaving the past unresolved?”
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