What the Heart Wants – Decision to Leave (2022)

I have seen more movies recently than I can keep up with reviewing, but I am doing my best to check some off the list as I go so I can empty my cup and start over. Decision to Leave is a uniquely enjoyable cinematic experience that combines a number of different elements to push the crime-thriller drama in a bold new direction. It’s one of my favorites from this year and deserves serious consideration for Best Picture.

A detective investigates what appears to be the falling death of an avid rock climber. However, when he meets the man’s wife, a strange attraction begins brewing and clouds the detective’s judgment. 

I am not the most familiar with Park Chan-wook’s work (and I will have to rectify that), but I did like Oldboy and Thirst more than enough to extend my interest to his latest project. There is a lot going on in this film and, because it’s a mystery at its core, I am going to try and tackle as much as I can without spoiling that aspect. 

One of the things that stood out to me the most was this film’s visual storytelling. I have seen plenty of crime dramas/thriller in my lifetime, and the majority of the good ones stay pretty close to the well-worn path of success laid out by their predecessors. There are some familiar tent poles like the eccentric detective and the taboo attraction that always seems to hinder the investigation, but the script by Chan-wook and Seo-kyung Chung changed how that story gets told. 

There are a lot of flashbacks and what I can only describe as imagined projections pieced into the unraveling of this mystery. One minute someone will be looking through a pair of binoculars and the next he’s inside the apartment he was observing, but only as a specter for the sake of telling the story. It shortens the distance between the subject and the observer, giving off a very ethereal quality, and also says something about the obsessive nature of the characters involved. I am curious if those particular elements were written into the script because it’s imbued with a substantial amount of humor as well, without crossing that line into the realm of comedy. It’s all character-driven and situational, so it fits within the world of the film without playing it up for laughs.

A primary reason why it all works together so well is the lead performances from Park Hae-il, playing the detective in charge of the case, and Tang Wei who plays the widow under investigation, Song Seo-rae. These two have wonderful chemistry together and that part is essential in making the whole film reach its potential.

A pivotal element of their character dynamic on screen is the vulnerability between them. Wei’s character is a Chinese national living in South Korea, so she is an outsider dealing with an additional level of scrutiny in the eyes of the law. It’s another thing where I’m curious to know whether that was always something that was meant to be part of the character and they cast the roles accordingly, or vice versa. Either way, the end result makes for some captivating scenes where she is forced to communicate through the translation program on her phone. Those little details, like Hae-li’s character not being able to sleep, brought so much rich texture to the story and complemented each side of the equation. 

I mentioned my admiration of the visual aesthetic earlier and I have to circle back to that because it’s one thing to have an idea present on the page but it’s another thing to bring that to life in a substantial way that separates it from other films in the genre. RYU Seong-hie’s production design is exceptional and utilizes color in a refreshing way that’s almost taboo for films in the crime thriller genre and that boldness trickles down all the way into the costume design as well. 

All of that is punctuated by some great shot-making by cinematographer KIM Ji-Yong. The film feels very much alive in that respect which is a testament to Sang-beom Kim in the editing room. One minute we are in the banal, uninspired confines of a stuffy police interrogation room, and the next we are climbing up the side of a steep rockface to a majestic overlook. The location scouting was great for this film but Ji-Yong also really takes us for a deeply personal adventure with his use of close-ups and almost voyeuristic use of off-center framing. 

It has been a few weeks now since I have seen it so some of the texture may not be as clear as it was the night I saw it, but I loved how many versions of the song “Mist” by Jung Hoon Lee were woven into the story and used to not only connect some dots but also as a distinct piece of culture in addition to Yeong-wook Jo’s moving original music. 

This was a film where I saw the trailer and took an interest, but went in with basically nothing in the way of expectations and had an absolute blast. I did my best to navigate around the mystery at the core of the film so that you can discover it yourself, but this film rocketed up into the stratosphere of my favorites of 2022. 

Recommendation: If you enjoy Park Chan-wook’s films, this is a must, but it’s also a great break from the norm when it comes to those who enjoy crime thrillers/mysteries.