Film review: Decision to Leave

Minimal Standards
2 min readMar 5


I missed this in theaters so I ordered it on DVD when it came out a few months later. It had gotten fairly good reviews so I thought it would be worth a watch. Overall, I liked it. However, there were some challenges for me. I’ll go through these first.

Unless you speak Korean, you’ll be relying on subtitles. This is not usually a problem for me, but in this film the subtitles did present a couple of issues. #1 — they go quickly. Maybe it is due to rapid dialogue, but sometimes I was not able to finish reading them. Also, if there is some sign or document onscreen, it tended to distract me such that I missed some of the subtitles. #2 — a fair amount of the time, you get white text on partially white backgrounds, so even if you can read fast enough to make it through the text, some text may not be visually readable anyway. They should probably have gone with some sort of letterboxing so that the text could be shown below the video on a guaranteed black background. The net effect for me of both of the above issues was that I was missing some dialogue in some parts, and hence missing some of the plot.

Another challenge was cultural. I generally don’t feel this way about foreign films; normally, the language is the only barrier to understanding. “Decision to Leave” felt different, though. This was my own impression, and you’d really need to consult someone well-versed in Korean language and culture to confirm this. It felt like there were some subtleties of the story that may more readily make sense to Korean audiences. That is not a criticism of the film — it was made primarily for Korean audiences (I assume). Hence, there may be aspects that don’t “translate” well culturally. Maybe there were some story elements that were just odd, or maybe they seemed odder to me from a foreign perspective. Examples that I can recall were things like the way the couples reacted in response to apparent betrayal or attraction; or the semi-comic interactions between the inspector and his assistants / partners. My best guess for why things seemed a bit ‘off’ was differing cultural cues / norms.

Also, the run time is close to 2.5 hours. Given the plot intricacies, it is better if you can watch this in one sitting. It is harder if you break it up to pick up the plot thread where you left off.

With all the above said, I did enjoy the film. I thought the plot involving the mystery elements and the way the relationships between characters developed and changed was quite interesting. I suspect I’d have been able to enjoy it even more were it not for some of the factors discussed above. Admittedly, a large majority of attempts to remake a foreign film in the U.S. don’t tend to work out well. However, in this case I’d be curious to see an American version of the film, primarily as a way to eliminate the technical and cultural hurdles to enjoying the story.