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Movie Review: "Decision to Leave"

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

First came the glittering satire "Parasite," Korea's surprise Best Picture Oscar winner. Then came "Squid Game," the international streaming sensation. Now critic Bob Mondello says the Korean film industry has another potential hit, a new detective drama called "Decision To Leave."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We're in Busan, where Hae-jun is the youngest detective on the city's police force, but an old hand at sleuthing. He wears custom-made suits with a dozen pockets for the essentials of his trade - eye drops for overnight stakeouts, a chainmail glove, so in a knife fight, he can grab his opponent's blade. He's ready for anything, it seems, except - well, no sense getting ahead of ourselves. Near the start of the film, his interest is piqued when an experienced climber's body is found at the base of a cliff. Did he fall? Was he pushed? We'd better go up, he tells his partner.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

PARK HAE-IL: (As Detective Hae-Jun, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: So is a chopper coming?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

PARK: (As Detective Hae-Jun, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: Not this time. Our detective wants to retrace the fall in reverse, walking up the side of the cliff with a motorized pulley assist, explaining to his partner who's strapped to his back that this is the path the dead man took, and they're the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: Then should we bounce down three times like he did, moans the partner.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: After that little field trip, they talk to the climber's much younger wife, Seo-rae, who seems remarkably unfazed by her husband's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

TANG WEI: (As Seo-re, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: Might she be a black widow type? She's an elder care nurse, beloved by her patients, and not a suspect unless the death turns out to be suspicious. So is it? Writer-director Park Chan-wook amplifies doubts as the investigation proceeds, while keeping the detective firmly in Seo-rae's orbit. He's surveilled her apartment so many evenings that eventually she invites him in. And together, they solve a communication problem - Mandarin, not Korean, is her first language, and he doesn't speak it. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

TANG: (As Seo-re, speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: Google Translate to the rescue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DECISION TO LEAVE")

AUTOMATED VOICE: (Speaking Mandarin).

MONDELLO: It's worth noting that cellphones and electronics have been wreaking havoc with this sort of film noir generally. Mysteries tend to be less mysterious when you can track a suspect's whereabouts. So it's intriguing how the filmmakers made tech part of the game here. It's the sort of thing you can imagine Hitchcock playing with if cellphones had been around in his day. And I bring up Hitch's name deliberately. Even if there weren't a fall from great heights, this detective-meets-possible-femme-fatale story would be likely to remind you of "Vertigo" - lush romance, obscure motives, characters you trust about as far as a director can drop them from a cliff, and a story in which it's at about the halfway point when you think the mystery is being neatly wrapped up that things really get interesting.

"Decision To Leave" is all about decisions the characters make - to leave a job, a marriage, a great love. Can't imagine any audience member making a decision to leave, though, not once this story gets going. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.