A woman goes to her mother’s funeral. At the wake afterwards she meets a man who she chats to and he gives her his number. The next morning she can’t find the slip of paper she’d written his number on. The following week she kills her sister. Why? Have a think. You’ve got your answer? Okay, if you say something along the lines of “She found out her sister had stolen the number” or was dating the man, then you’re normal.
Those are understandable human motivations for murder. But if you thought, “Well, she needs another funeral”, then keep to yourself because that means you’re a psychopath. Oldboy director Park Chan-wook’s new film Decision to Leave is a cinematic psychopath test. Park Hae-il plays Hae-joon a police detective who doesn’t have enough murders to solve in Busan. His wife (Lee Jung-hyun) works in Ipo, a misty seaside town. With his partner (Go Kyung-pyo), Hae-joon finally gets given what looks like an interesting case.
An immigration official is found at the foot of a cliff after apparently falling to his death while climbing. But his wife, the Chinese Seo-rae (Tang Wei) seems suspiciously unfazed. She has an alibi but Hae-joon continues to investigate, with a stakeout that begins to look a lot like obsessive stalking. He’s also told his wife that he’s investigating the murder of a young wife by an old man. So something is going on.
The twists and turns are such a lot of fun that I shall refrain from spoilerage. Enough to say that the case involves a fatal attraction between the femme fatale and her evermore compromised pursuer. A love story starts of such chaste eroticism as to make you fan yourself with ill gotten gains. There’s no nudity, or for that matter physical contact, but you should see how these two clean up after they’ve eaten sushi.
Noir is about labyrinthine conspiracies, but the plot isn’t as important as the general feel for the world of noir. The road needs to be bendy; it doesn’t matter which way it bends. From a craft point of view, the film is as impeccable as you would expect from the director of Oldboy and The Handmaiden. Kim Ji-yong’s cinematography gives us shot after shot of dizzying inventiveness and Cho Young-wuk’s score escapes Hitchcockian influence and becomes something in itself. There is a lot of devilish wit, which gleefully subverts convention. A foot chase leaves the police and criminal so exhausted they stagger towards their confrontation.
Ultimately, Decision to Leave is like a beautiful airport novel of a film. It is far cleverer than it needs to be and is so acted with sly charisma. Tang Wei is particularly captivating, giving us a heartbreaking sociopath. The kind of girl you meet at funerals.
The 75th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 17-28 May. Follow our coverage here.
John Bleasdale | @drjonty