A world-weary detective falls in love with a sphinx-like widow on a murder case. Talk about the usual suspects! We have seen this setup once or twice.

But The Decision to Leave , a dazzling, bewildering, gorgeously made variation on a dangerously familiar motion picture directed and co-written by Park Chan-wook, takes its constituent parts and creates something no one has created before.

Visually, it lives every second, both thoughtfully and imaginatively; history, meanwhile, requires a risky wait – what? detours en route to a surprisingly tough finish. The South Korean master of the genre, whose films include the feverishly violent “Oldboy” and the maturely seductive “The Maid,” hasn’t shied away from sex or violence in his latest film, written by his frequent collaborator Jung So-kyung. But both of these primal cinematic ingredients beautify the result in unexpected ways.

We plunged headlong into history. Busan homicide detective Hae-Jung (Park Hae-Il) is working two cases, and for a while we don’t know what to invest — or how much “Decision to Leave” will invest — in the B-plot. The A-plot finds a dead climber at the base of a peak outside Busan. His Chinese-born widow So-Rei (Tang Wei) is clearly unmoved by her late husband’s fatal fall. Is she the prime suspect? Or just a prime target for the detective’s (and the film’s) romantic impulses?

Park complicates the issue in every direction. Visual perspectives change on a dime, often wittily. One shot gives us a vantage point above the clouds of a glass-eyed dead man on the ground, ants running across his invisible eyes.

As the mutual attraction between the insomniac detective and his suspect develops, the detective imagines himself—and we see it—as some kind of comforting spirit, right there in the widow’s apartment, ready to grab her cigarette before the ashes fall, for example. .

The detective had been married for 16 years, good enough but increasingly distant; his wife works at a power plant in a perpetually foggy seaside town a few hours outside of Busan. As the story moves toward this locale, Park switches gears to a different type of film. Many good filmmakers never seem to lose their influence and inspiration when they tackle a genre. The park is different, and better.

Parts of The Decision to Leave harken back to old Hollywood, particularly the rhapsodic roguishness of Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo. But the film’s detailed and extensive interest in GPS tracking devices and translation software (from Korean to Chinese, which So-rae uses as she tries to express herself with particular care and precision) makes the experience both a classic and a newsletter of the present.

“Did I just push?” the detective asks after a lot, but hardly everything, has happened. No noir– this is a rhetorical question in the whole movie. In the superb hands of actor Park Hye-il, the lightness of the detective’s presence and the wave of longing are as masterfully executed as Tang’s performance as the mysterious woman. Yes, director Puck’s willingness to cause instant confusion as to who is who and what is what will be too much for some. This is how I feel: With the filmmaking and acting at this level, Park can run as long as he wants.

The Music Box Theater and Gene Siskel Film Center is showing The Decision to Leave in pristine 35mm. At AMC River East, it’s a regular digital offering. I’d vote for the Music Box or the Film Center for the simple reason that with a print this sharp, I always prefer film over digital, whenever and wherever Chicago’s stubbornly impressive film scene can do it.

“The decision to leave” – ​​3.5 stars

No MPAA rating (violence, some sexual content and language)

Duration: 02:18

How to watch: Now playing at the Music Box Theatre, Gene Siskel Film Center and AMC River East 21. In Korean and Mandarin with English subtitles.

Michael Phillips is a critic for the Tribune.


Twitter @phillipstribune

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