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Beyond Fest movie review: 'Decision to Leave' is an engrossing obsession

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Tang Wei (L) and Park Hae-il star in "Decision to Leave." Photo courtesy of Mubi
Tang Wei (L) and Park Hae-il star in "Decision to Leave." Photo courtesy of Mubi

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Decision to Leave, in theaters Oct. 14, uses the detective genre to explore a fascinating dynamic between the detective and his suspect. Director Park Chan-wook and his co-writer Chung Seo-kyung have crafted an engrossing and unpredictable piece.

Detective Jang Hae-Jun (Park Hae-il) investigates the death of mountain climber Ki Do-soo (Yoo Seung-mok). After interviewing Ki's wife, Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei), and clearing her, Jang continues to see Song at risk to his own marriage and career.

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Park presents Jang's discovery of clues in a compelling way. In one scene, his analysis of Ki's fatal climb is shown parallel to the murderer plotting and executing the crime. Another time, flashbacks of the crime appear behind Jang in the same scene.

Jang also is obsessed with two other cases that intersect with Ki's death. Intense pursuits ensue with unique confrontations.

But, the personal relationships between Jang and Song and Jang and his own wife, Jung-an (Lee Jung-hyun), are as engrossing as the mystery itself.

Jang's job gives him insomnia. He uses it to work all night stakeouts, but still dozes off behind the wheel.

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So, Jang uses some of his time to visit Song, which is improper no matter his justification. Song cares for the elderly, her compassion making her empathetic, but why does she keep texting the detective investigating her husband's death?

Jung-an is understanding of her husband's odd hours and demanding job. They seem to have a healthy relationship despite Jang's unconventional schedule.

Needless to say, Jang keeps his relationship with Song a secret. So the audience is likely to suspect his interest isn't entirely platonic, but even if it is it's still odd to pursue.

Tang is the engine on which Decision to Leave runs. She plays Song's relationship with Jang in subtle ways that can't incriminate her, but compromise Jang so he can't tell anyone, either.

In essence, Jang is the classic sap falling for a femme fatale. Unlike a Double Indemnity or Body Heat, Song manages to keep Jang from even knowing she's scheming.

With Decision to Leave, Park adds to his filmography of complex adult relationships in genre settings. If it's cop drama you want, Decision to Leave delivers that and much more.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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