What To Watch This Weekend
THE MURDER MYSTERY:
Decision To Leave
It’s not an understatement to say that South Korea is having a cultural moment. Thanks to Bong Joon-ho Parasite’s well-deserved best picture Oscar win in 2020 – the first foreign-language film to do so – we’ve been treated to plenty of excellent South Korean dramas and series, such as Squid Game and Drive My Car, while the V&A currently has an excellent exhibition dedicated to the ‘Korean Wave’.
One man who’s been central to South Korean arts for decades is Pack Chan-wook. Most famous for his 1990s horrifying thriller Oldboy and 2017 twisted romance The Handmaiden, he’s back with Decision To Leave, a twisty mystery that pulls on the heartstrings and asks: when is a marriage really over?
This seductive thriller is a murder mystery at its heart. Two Busan detectives – played by Park Hae-il and Go Kyung-pyo – are in the middle of a long slog of a case, trying to track down two men wanted for murder. The pair becomes side-tracked when a man is found dead at the bottom of a popular climbing spot. He’s easy to identify – every item about his person is monogrammed, including his young wife, who sports a hidden tattoo and who comes to the station to identify his body.
Played by Chinese star Tang Wei (Lust, Caution), Seo-rae is a softly spoken Chinese immigrant who works in a care home. Suddenly, Hae-joon – a proud man who’s the youngest inspector the Busan force has ever had and is seemingly happily married to a beautiful wife – ends up developing feelings for the dead man's wife as he digs deeper to discover whether her experienced-climber husband really fell from a mountain he knew so well, or whether he was murdered. As Hae-joon’s colleagues urge caution as his obsession becomes darker and all-consuming, an unusual love story begins to play out.
In Park’s signature style, this isn’t a linear tale and there are no judgements on his characters. Instead, we’re taken on a sweeping tour of South Korea – from the mountains to the sea and deep into the cities – as an ever-twisting cat-and-mouse game continues right up until the closing credits. Decision To Leave earned Park the best director gong at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and it’s had five-star reviews across the board. We don’t want to give anything away, so all we’ll say is please don’t let the run-time of over two hours or subtitles put you off – this is easily one of the best films we’ve seen this year.
THE ROMANCE DRAMA:
Harry Styles is also having a moment. Following his small but well-received part in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the singer was signed up to star in two films – Don’t Worry Darling and My Policeman, both scheduled for release this autumn. More anticipated for its off-screen drama than the film itself, Don’t Worry Darling focused on Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack (Styles), who live in the idealised community of Victory, an experimental company town that houses the men who work on a top-secret project in the 1950s. My Policeman is also set in the 1950s, but is much more rooted in reality – and, by the end, packs a real emotional punch.
Based on the 2012 novel by Bethan Roberts, the story centres on Marion (played by The Crown’s Emma Corrin), who meets policeman Tom (Styles). Over a summer, he teaches her to swim and schoolteacher Marion is smitten – determined her love will be enough for them both. Then Tom meets Patrick (David Dawson) while on duty. As a thank you, the cultured Patrick offers to take both Marion and Tom on an art tour of the Brighton Museum, where he works, and quickly dazzles them both with his sophisticated elegance and worldly experiences.
Before long, the couple has become a threesome – doing everything together, from trips to the theatre to drunken evenings in the pub. It soon becomes apparent that Tom belongs to both Marion and Patrick but in 1950s England, it is safer for him to marry Marion than pursue anything with Patrick. And so, the two lovers share him – until one of them breaks and all three lives are destroyed.
Many might head to the cinema just to see Styles, but the best parts of the film are those set in modern-day Peacehaven, a village just outside Brighton. Here we find grey-haired Marion (now played by the excellent Gina McKee) and Tom (Linus Roach) living a comfortable existence punctuated by dog walks and strolls along the beachfront. But then Patrick (Rupert Everett) arrives – wheeled in by carers after suffering a stroke: he’s coming to live with them, as he has no one else to care for him. His old friends step in to help, but in doing so they open up old wounds.
A love letter to Brighton and an eye-opening story of forbidden love – and the people who get hurt along the way – this is a pleasingly shot drama that reveals itself slowly, with a tragic ending that will have you reaching for the tissues. Styles’s stilted acting might be one of the film’s weaker parts, but this important story is more than worth a watch.
Both My Policeman & Decision To Leave are in cinemas from 21st October. My Policeman is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from 4th November.
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