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film review

Park Hae-Il, left, and Tang Wei star in Decision to Leave.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • Decision to Leave
  • Directed by Park Chan-wook
  • Written by Park Chan-wook and Jeong Seo-Kyeong
  • Starring Park Hae-Il and Tang Wei
  • Classification R; 138 minutes
  • Opens at Toronto’s TIFF Lightbox Oct. 28 before expanding to other cities Nov. 4

Critic’s Pick

Genre-hounds dazzled by Park Chan-wook’s landmark “vengeance” trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) might be disappointed, or at least become irritably impatient, when diving into the South Korean filmmaker’s latest movie, Decision to Leave. More slow-burn Hitchcockian homage than gross-out spectacle – the hammer attacks and live-squid slurping of Oldboy is nowhere to be found – Park’s new film delivers shock value in so much only as how it might shock fans who have not yet strayed outside that much-loved outré trilogy.

But for those audiences who have taken the time to become familiar with Park’s postvengeance filmography, especially the patient and intricate eroticism of Stoker and The Handmaiden, Decision to Leave fits perfectly within the director’s meticulously assembled canon. His twin obsessions are lust and caution – and with apologies to filmmaker Ang Lee, Park has mastered both of those fixations.

On that joke: Park casts Chinese actress Tang Wei, star of Lee’s 2007 drama Lust, Caution, to lead Decision to Leave in the sort of femme-fatale role that makes your skin crawl, tingle and pop with nervous electricity. Playing Seo-Rae, the poker-faced widow of a man who either jumped or was pushed to his death off the face of a Busan cliff, Wei radiates an alluring old-school movie stardom: charm and danger in equal measure. Even if her character is guilty of ill deeds, the actress gives her so much unblinking verve that you would gladly see her walk off into the sunset.

Hae-Il plays a detective who falls for a mysterious widow after she becomes the prime suspect in his latest murder investigation.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Which is a troubling vibe for homicide detective Hae-jun (Park Hae-Il), a cop assigned to cracking the case. Married and seemingly satisfied with his life and career, Hae-jun begins to fall deeper into Seo-Rae’s life – which, depending on your preferred animalistic metaphor, is more akin to a spider’s web or rabbit hole.

Paced with a precise sort of languorousness, Decision to Leave may leave some audiences feeling wobbly, uncertain of where Park’s story is going or if it even intends to land anywhere close to a destination. Myriad, but minor-key, swerves and detours further confuse the journey, as if Park intends his audience to become as disconnected from their lives as Hae-jun.

But the ultimate ride is well worth any destabilization, especially given how much control Park exercises over every single frame of his work. This is meticulous, beautiful filmmaking that is rich in meaning and fat with detail. Surrender to Park’s smoky, dangerous romance – vengeance can wait.