Arts, Movies

‘Decision to Leave’ Indulges Viewers Into a Tale of Neo-noir Romance


A detective falls in love with the suspect of his investigation. While the premise appears as an unoriginal crime romance story,  there is no movie that can intertwine a love story with intriguing suspense in such a soul-stirring way as 2022 Cannes Film Festival star Decision to Leave did.

Decision to Leave is a South Korean movie directed by Park Chan-wook, who won Best Director for the film at Cannes. It tells an intense, heartbreaking story between a detective, Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), and a dead man’s mysterious Chinese wife, Seo-rae (Tang Wei). Its theatrical release was Oct. 14, reviving attention to Park’s masterpiece after the festival win in May. 

The romantic chemistry between two brilliant actors fills every corner of the screen,  illuminating the spark between both characters who were previously hopeless in love. Though Seo-rae is the subject of his investigation, Hae-joon is unable to resist becoming enamored with her, which becomes the genesis of the film’s struggle.

Decision to Leave creates an air of love even in the actors’ nonverbal communication. Every delicate touch between their hands, the rise and fall of their synchronous breaths, and close-up frames of their eyes filled with tenderness all suggest a deep obsession that is painfully restrained.

Alluding to the proverb of Confucius, the motifs of mountain and water from Eastern literature are woven into the projection of this dangerous, complicated relationship between Seo-rae and Hae-joon. 

The implication that these two qualities of earth are incompatible also hints at the gap between their social identities. Understanding that they are not supposed to go beyond the relationship of a detective and a suspect, the forbidden love therefore appears to be even more desirable, drawing them toward each other even more. 

The intentional switch between two languages—Korean and Chinese—brings a tense image of vivid exoticism onto the screen. Speaking in her native Chinese language, Tang enchants the viewers with the charisma of her distinctive rhyme and tone.

The switch between languages serves as a bridge, inviting the audience to spy on her innermost flow of emotion and contradictions under her enchanting appearance. 

By purposefully avoiding the phrase, “I love you,” Hae-joon’s confession of love reveals a repressed romanticism that is a stereotyped cultural fixture in Asian cinema. Park presents love as too earnest for one to undertake and describe in words. 

What else could be a more explicit verbal expression of what occurs when love clashes with morality? He is infatuated with Seo-rae, feeling a deep affection so unbearable that it bursts his heart and tears him into pieces once he realizes a hidden truth in the movie.

The film’s twist reaches a climax of emotional outbreak, tugging at the viewer’s heartstrings. The ending initially pierces the heart with shock that is then replaced with a devastating sorrow that gradually and stealthily overwhelms the viewer with the realization that it is the only justified ending in this tale of forbidden love.

Decision to Leave begins with a cliché story in which a cop falls in love with the murder suspect, but it extends itself into a moving, moody piece of film that impresses the audience with a heart-rending tone. 
The intention of films like Decision to Leave is never to cater to the audience with a cheesy love story, but rather to captivate their emotions and unfold a profound narrative layer by layer.

November 2, 2022