Kim Ki-duk once again toys with Time in this tragic romance


on July 13, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk's background as a painter informs the 46-year-old's 13th feature both metaphorically and aesthetically. One's face is a canvas that can be redrawn at will in this at-times exquisitely composed 21st-century fable.

Two years into their relationship, Seh-hee (Park Ji-yun) fears her boyfriend Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo) has grown bored of her face. Indeed, one night he is unable to make love to her without fantasizing about another woman. The next day, determined to restore novelty to their romance, Seh-hee disconnects her phone, moves out of her apartment and visits a plastic surgeon, tacitly saying yes to the practice's slogan, “Do you want a new life?”

Although crushed by her desertion, six months later Ji-woo finds himself falling for the new waitress at his favorite coffee shop despite still pining for Seh-hee. A similar name—See-hee (Seong Hyeon-ah)—is not all this new love interest shares with his previous girlfriend. Alas, history is destined to repeat itself, as See-hee grows desperately jealous of Seh-hee but is unable to turn back time and undo her extreme makeover. Her attempt—donning a paper mask of her old face—is as artistically effective as it is unsettling.

Likewise visually stunning are the several scenes that take place in a sculpture park, where both couples have a series of photographs taken. Kim's compositions here, particularly of a pair of hands that form a staircase leading out of the ocean into the sky, are lovely.

As a conventional narrative, Kim's script defies plausibility: Seh-hee is immediately hysterical that Ji-woo would dare look at or speak to another woman—there's no antecedent for her insecurity. And one finds it unlikely that he wouldn't recognize his lover's body, if not her face, or the personal effects in her new apartment.

However, Time works as a photographic negative to Kim's best-received film, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring , with which it shares a cyclical theme. The previous project was set in an ancient, spiritual world on which modernity intrudes. Here, an ultra-contemporary love story's challenges with credibility are eased upon its mystical conclusion.
Distributor: LifeSize
Cast: Seong Hyeon-ah, Ha Jung-woo, Park Ji-yun and Kim Sung-min
Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Kim Ki-duk
Genre: Drama; Korean-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 97 min.
Release date: July 13, 2007 NY
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