A new film from Korean champions Park Chan-wook is like a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick. Already three quarters of an hour before admission on the picturesque and turbulent Croisette of Cannes, the admirers are queuing, in anticipation of a feat that will go beyond the known limits of cinema physics. Unlike David Cronenberg later in the evening, they will not be disappointed. Hit, sunk, even in the literal sense, they later state breathlessly when the climax has swept over the spectators in the Salle Debussy with heartrending consequence like the tide of the Pacific over the country. “Decision to Leave” is the best film in the competition so far. In the manner of a DNA double helix, he combines crime and love story.

Why does the dead man, who fell under mysterious circumstances from a rock not far from the metropolis of Busan, have genetic traces of his wife under his fingernails? And she has a suspicious scratch on her hand? Seo-rae, who once fled China and was only not deported again because her grandfather was a hero of the Koreans’ war against the Japanese in Manchuria, is the most enigmatic geriatric nurse in film history. Beautiful in a rough way, she shocks the investigators with amused chuckles while the talk is of her husband’s death. However, he was so possessive that he had his initials tattooed on her stomach, as well as on his wallet and flask. Later, Hae-jun, the chief inspector, stands in the stairwell and says: “Even my wife wouldn’t be shocked if she found out about my death.”

Already here, perhaps fifteen minutes into the film, Park has flexed his unprecedented muscles, albeit more subtly and thus far less violently than in the flamboyant baroque masterpieces for which he is famous, Oldboy (2003 ) to The Handmaiden (2016). We have seen ants crawling on the dead man’s eyes, from inside the glazed eyeball. In a similar shot, the camera looks out of the bowels of an iPhone at the texting detective; his fingers seem to be tapping the canvas. Cameraman Kim Ji-yong (“A Bittersweet Life”, “The Age of Shadows”) films a nocturnal search in the forest from the perspective of a heron gliding along, unperturbed by human passions. The torches shine amidst the treetops like disoriented fireflies or like flashes of inspiration in the maze of this amazing film.

A chase over the roofs accompanies a camera drone. At the end of the abyss, policeman and delinquent face each other, irreconcilable opposites, but united in their fate of unhappy love. So the showdown does not come with weapons, but with words: How far is a man willing to go for his love? The criminal, daredevil by nature, answers quicker and more impulsively than the policeman. He needs the whole movie for it.

Park Hae-il, known from Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006), plays Hae-jun with subtle elegance. In a world dominated by technology, in which he is also at home, he not only pursues criminals, but also a knightly ideal. At weekends, exhausted, he commutes to his wife, who works as an engineer at a nuclear power plant in the otherwise sleepy coastal town of Ipo. Her beauty is widely admired, but their marriage is as soporific as Hae-jun’s paradoxically sleepless nights. Even when it comes to sex – which is necessary once a week so that couples don’t get divorced, as his wife, who is knowledgeable in statistics and alternative medicine, knows – Hae-jun’s mind is elsewhere. In his case? the woman asks. No, he lies. Maybe it’s not entirely a lie, because somehow it’s about the case, which has long since lost meaning compared to the detective’s obsession with his suspect.

At night he watches them from his car. In a beautiful scene, he suddenly sits next to her on the sofa, watching her eat ice cream (her usual dinner) and how she watches classic Korean dramas on TV over and over again and speaks in sync, probably to improve her Korean, but maybe also, to express themselves in their loneliness. She can’t see him because he’s not actually sitting there. Park Chan-wook uses this simple surrealism to show a closeness that the two have long been aware of, but don’t dare to admit for the time being.

It’s not even necessary, they’ve both known that since they first met at the police station. You can see it in Hae-jun’s eyes – they open when he really looks at her for the first time, in quiet astonishment, realizing something he hasn’t even allowed himself to dream of for a long time. As soon as he is in the car in front of her apartment, he can sleep again. Later, in a scene unabashedly chaste like the whole film, he lies in bed and matches his breathing with hers. Said to be a US Navy method, improved by Seo-rae. Just as film noir, with its legions of investigators in love with mysterious women, is an American invention, now enhanced by Park Chan-wook.

“Bring me this nice detective’s head,” Seo-rae once says while burying a corpse. The corpse is a raven, her interlocutor is a cat. And it wasn’t even about Hae-jun’s head, it was about his heart, apparently phonetically similar in Korean. Hae-jun recorded the strange wish with his Apple Watch. Technology is as crucial to solving the case as it is elusive. Because only hearts don’t lie. They alone matter, even if they dictate to the high-tech equipment how high they climbed on which day.

Finally it is clear how Seo-rae’s husband died. She remains at large. And yet it can be blackmailed, which, after a leap in time of more than a year and the change of setting from the mountains to the sea, leads to the passing of the next, meanwhile acquired, husband. Hae-jun is angry. Or just terribly jealous? What would she say if she heard from a woman whose husbands number one and two die within a few months of violence? “What a coincidence!” he answers the rhetorical question himself. She looks at him and says: “What a poor woman.”

Park wrote the role specifically for Tang Wei, best known for Ang Lee’s 2007 fantastical Lust, Caution. Her elegance, paired with stubbornness, was made for the role of Seo-rae, he told the Hollywood Reporter a few days ago. And really, the cat-and-mouse game between her and Park Hae-il can be described as a dance that is as elegant as it is defiant. Park Chan-wook alludes to his great role model Alfred Hitchcock, especially his “Vertigo”, where it remains unclear for a long time whether a woman reciprocates the hopeless love of a man or only uses him for her purposes. And on modern classics like “Basic Instinct”, but without simply giving up the dignity – in many cases the mortal enemy of the lower instincts, even if it doesn’t deny it. Especially Hae-jun clings to his chivalry for a long time until his marriage falls apart. Guided by an intact GPS signal and his broken heart, he chases after Seo-rae one last time. The fog that was not only in Ipo, but also in the form of a song called “The Mist”, which can be heard in two versions, has finally cleared. The sun breaks through, but at the same time the tide comes.