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Decision to Leave (Heeojil Gyeolsim) - Spoiler Free Movie Review

The newest crime drama from the mind behind Oldboy, is brimming with complex metaphors & intricating human emotions, packed with spectacular cinematography.

Original Title: 헤어질 결심 (Heeojil Gyeolsim)

Genre: Crime / Drama / Mystery / Romance

Director: Park Chan-wook

Cast: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, Kim Shin-young, Park-Yong-woo, Seo Hyun-woo, Jung Young-sook & Yoo Seung-mok.

Run Time: 139 min.

South Korea Release: 29 June 2022

US Release: 21 October 2022

UK Release: 21 October 2022

German Release: 02 February 2023

This Korean feature has been on my anticipated watch list for quite a while now. I am a huge fan of Park Chan-wook; Oldboy was my first experience with Korean cinema and while not equally as good, the two flicks that completed his Vengeance trilogy are well entertaining! With Germany being one of the last countries to release this theatrically, I finally had the chance to watch it. I was extremely surprised, as it took a completely different route than what I had expected! So let’s dig into my review for Decision to Leave!

I originally planned to have this review ready before my holidays, yet did not manage to put it down into words, simply because of its complexity. This gave me the chance to watch it twice again, during my flight to Dubai and back.

A detective investigates a man’s death in the mountains. Did he jump, or was he pushed? As he digs deeper into the investigations, beginning to suspect the dead man's wife, he finds himself trapped in a web of deception, lust plus desire.

Park Chan-wook is one of the most notorious Korean directors, known for his films that depict violence and sex, wrapped in some of the most insane cinematography. Those two emotions are usually integrated not to shock audiences, but to explore the human condition through two of the most basic behaviours. Generally, it is a guarantee as to what to expect, when watching one of his flicks. Decision to Leave, however, was completely contrary to what I had expected, marking a welcomed change to the director’s usual formula.

Honestly, this could not have come out during a better month in Germany, given that Valentine’s Day is approaching, making it a beautiful romantic tale to watch with your partner. Yes, there are hints of violence, even eroticism, though these are subtle, nearly vague. What remains is a bittersweet narrative about two people, standing on opposing sites, who fall for each other amid a criminal investigation, emphasising the psychological mystery over the investigative one.

The topic at hand is incredibly multi-layered, making it perfect for watching several times to comprehend what fully transpires. Luckily, as I mentioned in my opening statement, I had the chance to watch it two times more, noticing that the premise gets better with each viewing! The essential subject of desire, love, as well as regret, are enveloped in recurring symbolic themes about the sea versus the mountains. The movie references a quote by Confucius, directly stating that “wise people like water, while benevolent people like mountains”. It is a theme that keeps repeating throughout the runtime, redefining romance.

The plot focuses mostly on the two leads, with minor side characters implemented to create a driving force, or reason for choices made by the main cast. Generally, everyone involved did an exceptional job.

Park Hae-il plays lead detective Jang Hae-joon, one of the best in his field with a fine aptitude for noticing the smallest details. Yet Hae-joon has demons that don’t permit him to sleep; cold cases that couldn’t be solved. Not even his wife, who he visits every weekend from Busan to Ipo, can amend those gnawing thoughts that keep him up at night. This all changes when he meets Song Seo-rae, who instantly sets his mind at ease. In terms of metaphors, the character of Jang Hae-joon was born Seoul, where he also grew up, yet identifies more with the sea, even though he behaves like a mountain person.

Tang Wei portrays the widowed Song Seo-rae, a Chinese emigrant, who sees herself connected more to the sea than land. In fact, her character is always surrounded by colours, references or images that are directly connected to the marine life. Tang Wei gave a beautiful, unpredictable performance, while at the same time having immaculate chemistry with acting partner Park Hae-il!

Cinematographically, it is one of the most beautiful movies I have seen, incorporating the story's devastating romance in its visuals. Images linger to showcase moments of emotion, with close-ups focusing on seemingly unimportant objects, or gestures, that have in reality a larger meaning. Even the colour palette used, gives meaning to the subject of ‘sea vs. mount’, as it contains a lot of blue/green tints that connect directly to water. On the other hand, editing plus camera work are used to serve the story better.

Minimal effects are used that will not even be noticed by the general public, such as one of the last shots being taken from a beach in bird’s eye view. As the waves break on the shore, they create a female face for a split second. That said, it is the editing trickery, which creates the best effects! The creative way in which insert shots, match cuts, as well as transitions are being used, makes for a unique cinematic experience.

The music, composed by Jo Yeong-wook, is used sparingly. Nevertheless, the melodies plus songs used for this premise suit the situation that unfolds perfectly. It is a melodramatic soundtrack that packs a lot of subtle emotions.


Verdict: This is in my opinion one of Park Chan-wook’s best features! It is raw, intimate, as well as unscrupulous! It is an unusual police procedural story, which sets psychological mysteries and romance above the actual investigation. Deep meaningful symbolisms are sprinkled throughout the runtime, not only embedded in the narrative but also in the cinematography. This is misdirection done perfectly! Upfront is the metaphorical reference taken from a phrase by Chinese philosopher Confucius, that divides people into two categories - the sea or the mountains. The two leads, played by Park Hae-il and Tang Wei represent those two factions. Both have impeccable chemistry making their love story much more bittersweet. The cinematography is a crucial device of storytelling, using mesmerising frames, while the editing is some of the best I have seen. The music is soft, containing a dramatic undertone. All in all, Decision to Leave redefines the romantic genre, deserving a 9.0 out of 10.

Have you seen Decision to Leave? What did you think of it? Do you prefer Park Chan-wook’s older movies? Leave a comment below & as always, don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!


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