While forecasts of Park Chan-wook’s latest project as the new Parasite may have been premature assumptions, the progenitor of the 2000’s Korean revenge genre’s gradual pivot to contorted works of romance has resulted in one of the most dynamic and sensuous works of his career. More an ode to the twisted, irresistible love of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love than to Bong’s dissection of Korean class structures, Decision is a whirlwind of beguiling intrigue that oscillates between genre flirtation and mutation. It’s a delirious feat of camera acrobatics and editing, all connected within a violent flurry of forbidden love and sultry noir mystery.
In a stylistic approach that most closely shadows his last film, 2016’s The Handmaiden, Decision feels very much like a marriage of the director’s styles of past and present, both the glorified violence of his past and the turbulent romanticism of his more recent works. In that sense this doesn’t feel too dissimilar to 2009’s Thirst, except here Park navigates this juncture of theme through a Hitchcockian noir as opposed to the more direct parable of vampiric horror.
And for the vast majority of its runtime, Decision to Leave excels at both delighting and bewildering within its cacophony of head-spinning editing, transitions and camera trickery. The story of the detective at the film’s centre and the mysterious involvement of a woman within two of his cases is one which isn’t terribly complicated, but Park is constantly obscuring and teasing information, leaving the audience to piece it all together for themselves.
It’s a serious feat of plot cohesion that he’s able to pull off. Constant tonal shifts, jumping locations, multiple perspectives all infused with a sense of the unreal, only ever taking place within the most extreme bounds of reality.
It’s during a significant location shift and narrative roadblock in the third act that things begin to lose momentum. After reaching the climax of the relationship there’s little place else to go. The editing starts to become more stifling than enthralling and it loses the sense of focus that drove so much of the film before it. It’s hardly a fatal turn, but it’s only so much more prominent given the sheer command and finesse Park is able to direct otherwise.
While films like Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance revel in their sadism and violent imagery at the expense of more intricate storytelling, Decision is a film which interweaves the violence of interaction and the unknown to maintain a distinct visual poeticism. It’s asemiotic collage of mystery and revelation which is grounded in palpable humanity. Even if it is one of his messier films, a lot of the time it’s also one of his best. Somehow, Park Chan-wook has managed to make one of the year’s most romantic films a police procedural—a bizarre one at that—but once matched with any one of its wavelengths it’s hard not to be enthralled by its broad spectrum of deceit and allure.
Daniel Strathdee [he/him] @daniel_strathdee
[Image Credit: lwlies.com]