At the heart of Park Chan-wook’s latest thriller lurks a pitch-black sense of humor. decision to go. That won’t come as a surprise to fans of the South Korean filmmaker, who turns tales of murder, incest, betrayal and attempted suicide into twisted romance and even crazier visual gags. Out of old boy to heater to The maid, Chan-wook has mastered the art of eliciting a fierce chuckle from viewers — the kind of laughter that escapes the lips even when the face twitches in horror. Through that dark lens, he’s created an intriguing thriller that plays like Hitchcock and feels like Chan-wook’s version of a romantic comedy.
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Co-written by Chan-wook and frequent collaborator Jeong Seo-Gyeong (The maid, thirst), decision to go‘s will-they-wont-they couple seems straight out of a film noir. He is a city detective whose job is to solve murder mysteries. She’s the merry widow of a man who died in a bizarre mountaineering event – and the prime suspect. Hitchcock might have cast Cary Grant and one of his cool blond comrades as apparent femme fatale. As a director, Chan-wook Park Hae-il (The host, memories of murder), playing Inspector Hae-jun with a world-weariness that tugs at his shoulders, crumples his suit, and weighs down his every line. That is, until he meets her. Then there is a fire in his eyes that ignites his spirit.
decision to go is oddly and deliciously romantic.
Photo credit: TIFF
Gentle, blissful Seo-rae (Tang Wei) doesn’t seem like a killer; Behind her long eyelashes lies the angelic face of a respected geriatric nurse. But under her conservative clothing bruises are hidden and thus the motive of an abused wife who may have had enough of it. But did she get a chance to climb a mountain and push her boorish husband away? It’s cases like this that keep Hae-jun up at night with an unrelenting insomnia that warps his reality. She quickly becomes his new obsession and much more than just a suspect.
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She may be a killer, but there’s no denying her chemistry, albeit one with an edge that’s typical of Chan-wook’s on-screen romances. It begins with a shared fascination with grisly photographs of violence and deepens as she lifts her skirts so he can photograph her injuries as evidence. Their first “date” takes place in the intimacy of the interrogation room, where he’s prepared a decadent sushi platter for feasting. (Meanwhile, his dopey sidekick/partner watches as jealousy overwhelms him over this food-related affection.) As their relationship heats up, their path of seduction takes increasingly disturbing turns into the unusual — including sequences of him imagining he would with her flushed fantasy sequences. And it’s exhilarating, especially when it seems to be derailing.
decision to go is a top-notch thriller.
Photo credit: TIFF
Playing with such well-known noir characters would not be enough for Chan-wook. The crime is solved around the center of the film and a new perspective emerges. Deliberately throwing us off the map he himself drew for us, Chan-wook drives a sure-cut into the unknown as sizzling spectacles of sex, violence, murder and mystery unfold anew.
Hae-il is captivating as the famous detective who is blown away by love while his overzealous protégé serves as buzzing comic relief. But Wei dazzles as a woman who refuses to be held down by this man in love or his need for black and white descriptions. When they speak, it is with such a deep intimacy that it feels like we are listening. When they go head-to-head, it’s impossible to predict who will come out on top. Their battle is not just a battle of wits, but of will and dedication. The mountains hiked and beaches crossed is a landscape littered with pillow talk and unsettling truths. And once this journey comes to its beautiful and bittersweet ending, like Chan-wook’s best works, you’ll want to go back to the beginning and watch it all again.
decision to go is one of Chan-wook’s best films.
Photo credit: TIFF
Chan-wook’s thriller is covered in sweat, ash and blood. Whether in sleepless Seoul or in the relentlessly cloudy landscape, he stages scenes with a meticulously skewed perspective that forces the viewer out of complacency. We’re not just watching a movie. Our heads are tilted to the side in thought, desperately trying to solve the case alongside Hae-Jun. Like him, we are captivated by Seo-rae’s magnificent beauty and captivating gaze. The film’s setting often places these would-be lovers side by side, but Chan-wook creates a visual contrast, using blocks and focus to remind us of the conflict at the heart of their meeting. A ravishing score plays like an impotent mixture of warning and wonder. Then visual gags that make violence seem like a lark or depravity like a gift, prompting us to cackle in the dark of the theater.
Through it all, Chan-wook weaves a web of intrigue, intimacy and evil that is as seductive as it is harrowing. And remarkably, in all this darkness, there’s a determined thread of comedy that urges us to grin, even as our jaws drop in shock.
decision to go was reviewed for its North American premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. The film hits theaters on October 14th.