BFI LFF 2022: Decision to Leave

Cannes-award-winning unforgettable Decision to Leave directed with pyrotechnical flair by Park Chan-wook is a haunting Korean neo-noir and yet so much more.

Play Misty for Me

by Alexa Dalby

Decision to Leave

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Korean director Park is known previously for horror Oldboy and updated adaptation The Handmaiden, but Decision to Leave is very different from both of them. It’s an atmospheric film noir, a mixture of a love (or obsession) story and a crime thriller.

A married detective (Park Hae-il), investigating the death of an amateur climber and immigration officer, begins to suspect that the man’s much younger, beautiful Chinese widow (Tang Wei) knows more about the assumed accident than she is divulging to the police. He quickly falls in love with her and as a result finds himself trapped in a web of deception and desire that could compromise his career and his marriage. That’s how it starts. Then the story becomes even more complicated and intriguing, so no spoilers here.

The investigation and love story continue and possibly unravel. Nothing and no one are what they seem. Everything is intriguingly ambiguous. Even the story is dual and unfolds in two parts and two locations. Underneath it all, the difference between the sea and mountains is important and how this affects people.

Decision to Leave is based on confusion and deception, symbolised by the characteristic mist or fog in the seaside region that part of the action is set in and also the mist or fog of emotion and longing that exists in people’s minds. The film revels in a changeable murky blue/green colour palette: sometimes it looks like the light that filters through into the depths of the sea, and the cinematography contrasts this with the brightness of the mountains.

Decision to Leave means what? Leave a place, a marriage, a relationship, a life? It is a disconcerting, excitingly directed, beautifully acted film that goes beyond its plot and emotional arc, and it’s hard to do it justice in a review. Decision to Leave is an unforgettable must-see with a searing ending. Submerge yourself in it. It will exceed your expectations.

Decision to Leave won Best Director for Park Chan-wook at the Cannes Film Festival 2022, screened at the BFI London Film Festival on 14 October and is released on 21 October 2022 in cinemas in the UK and on Mubi later in 2022. Decision to Leave has been one of the most-acclaimed movies of the year. As well as the Best Director award at Cannes it has been shortlisted for the best international feature award at the 95th Academy Awards. Decision to Leave has already been nominated for best motion picture – non-English-language film at the Golden Globes, as well as best foreign language film at the Critics’ Choice Awards, and best international film at the 2022 British Independent Film Awards and the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

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