Despite not being marked as such, this is technically a re-watch. I will not mark this as a re-watch since I do not already have an article covering it on this site. My first viewing of Decision to Leave came more than three months back upon the recommendation of a close friend. This same close friend recommended I re-watch it for this month, and so it has come to that point.
Back in December, I liked this film a fair amount, though its ratings felt a little inflated to me. Nevertheless, I did intend to re-watch it at some point because this film is pretty dense with its themes. And for reasons I will get into during this review. Oh, and there will be spoilers for this film going forward.
“Hae-Joon, a seasoned detective, investigates the suspicious death of a man on a mountaintop. Soon, he begins to suspect Seo-rae, the deceased’s wife, while being unsettled by his attraction to her.”
Perspective while watching movies is such an important aspect that I don’t think most people consider. Take the case with me watching this for the first time. This murder investigation brings two souls together—a dignified detective and a Chinese woman whose husband was found dead. These two, almost instantaneously, find comfort in one another. This is insinuated from their very first meeting, as they coordinate in simple, trivial things that are anything but to the two of them.
Of course, this behavior is grossly inappropriate given the gravity of the situation they’re in. Such is what makes their behavior so compelling, so riveting in spite of its immorality. Despite their positions, they clearly have great chemistry, personalities that push and pull naturally with one another. Deep down, you end up rooting for them despite everything. They understand each other in a way no one else can.
The first time, though, I doubted her. Without knowing what was to come, I never truly trusted the woman’s affection for the detective. She killed her husband to escape an abusive relationship, and to avoid prison, she could easily seduce the detective on the case. Any person would, logically speaking. So while this film is, to a large degree, a romance, my suspicions clouded a lot of the warmer feelings of their growing relationship.
This, in turn, made the ending a little anticlimactic. The second half, specifically, dragged far more for me as my mind rattled as to the woman’s true intentions. So much was lost because I was deadset on seeing her as a heartless murderer. That wasn’t fair to her.
Second viewing, my intention was to gaze upon all that slipped through the cracks due to my inability to trust. Now with the hindsight nestled within my brain, I could better analyze the way these two engage one another in silent communication.
Peering into each other’s eyes. Subtle contact in ordinary ways. Eating in the same room. Listening to each other breathe. Sly jokes in serious conversations. Listening to voices on the phone. Imprinting, slowly and assuredly, one another’s charm into each other. Every scene is a poem, progressively written as time passes and their defenses continue to fall. Trust in one another allows everything else to flourish.
So many signs of affection I never noticed the first time. How the camera pans across environments imbues a serenity unlike most romance films I’ve ever seen. There are a few short scenes, roughly a third of the way in, where the main characters are open about their affection for one another and spend time together. Succinct as they are, they contain such passionate amounts of sweet, nurturing interactions that change depending on the viewer’s perspective. When you let go of skepticism, it makes complete sense.
The second half has a more tragic sensation to it. Much like the first time, it’s slightly weaker than the immersive, enjoyable moments of the first half. I adored Decision to Leave far more the second time, but the second half remains something of an inevitable final note to how most forbidden loves conclude. Something about how things progress remains more interesting than the aftermath, sort of like the cliché build-up to a relationship and ending with a climactic kiss scene.
Above all, it’s lovely. How these two manage to interact in their own way, circumstances aside, is endlessly engaging. Their passion, sadness, and longing is deeply heartfelt in a way most romances wish they could manage. Meticulous, subtle, and continuously building. Each action is a declaration far more integral than what may appear to the average person.
A very successful re-watch. A far more rewarding and engaging viewing now that I view it more as a romance than a suspense thriller. Easy as it would be to view it more as a police drama, the criminal setting says more about the characters than the story. How they engage with their positions in society and how it pertains to their relations with one another. There’s much to take from this, but more than anything, take this: watch it for yourself.
Final Score: 8.5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.