Hitchcockian vibes abound in the sumptuous new melodrama from Park Chan-wook, a murder mystery love story that marks the South Korean helmer’s first film at Cannes since 2016’s The Handmaiden. An achingly romantic throwback to the noirs of yesteryear, it’s a contemporary crime thriller with a distinctly retro vibe: the kind of film that might emerge if Vertigo and Body Heat had a love child and raised it in East Asia.
A mountain climber with a penchant for monogrammed accessories lies at the bottom of a cliff, ants crawling grotesquely over his open eyeballs. Did he fall or was he pushed? Busan-based detective Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) isn’t sure, but he comes to suspect the latter when he meets the dead man’s wife: a coolly implacable health-care worker who seems supremely unruffled by the fact she’s just been made a widow.
Taking her in for questioning, Hae-joon discovers that Seo-rae (Tang Wei) is a) Chinese, b) has an alibi and c) was routinely maltreated by her possessive late husband. But is she a murderess? That’s for Hae-joon to find out and he is in no particular hurry to do so, his insomniac lawman having already fallen under her seductive and intriguing allure.
“You need murder and violence in order to be happy!” sighs his neglected wife, and Decision To Leave has its fair share of both. As one would expect from this filmmaker though, there’s a subversive element to these genre signifiers, with one uphill foot chase amusingly occurring at an exhausted walking pace and another pursuit across the rooftops ending with cop and quarry having a fraternal tête-à-tête.
Modern embellishments like fitness apps and Siri are incorporated playfully into the narrative, while certain scenes are strikingly viewed through a mobile phone’s glass screen. The story’s second act, meanwhile, swaps the towering mountains of the first for churning, tempestuous seascapes: as apt a metaphor as any for the swirling, torrid passions that dictate the characters’ actions and engineer their fates.
In truth that second half – which takes place 13 months after the first and involves another of Seo-rae’s husbands buying the farm - lacks the drive of what precedes it, resulting in a work that feels at least 20 minutes too long. At no point, though, is there nothing on screen to admire, with Kim Ji-yong’s elegant visuals, Cho Young-wuk’s Hermann-esque score and Kwak Jung-ae’s sophisticated costumes all making their presence felt.
Sensual rather than sexy, Decision To Leave is ultimately too decorous to permit its characters to give into their basic instincts. Yet that doesn’t stop it casting an intoxicating spell, one you may well find lingering around for days after you see it.
Decision To Leave does not currently have a UK or US release date. Stick with Total Film for all the latest coverage from Cannes 2022 – check out our review of Holy Spider, through that link.