Time (2006)

Director:  Kim Ki-duk 
Cast:  Ha Jung-woo, Park Ji-Yeon, Jang Jun-yeong
Plot:  To save her relationship, a woman puts herself through extensive plastic surgery.

Genre: Drama / Mystery / Romance
Awards:  - 
Runtime:  97min
Rating:  M18 for some disturbing images and sexuality.

Kim Ki-duk’s Time is conceptually intriguing but it represents one of his weaker pictures in his filmography that features award-winning films such as 3-Iron (2004) and Pieta (2012). An internationally renowned South Korean filmmaker, Kim is known to use little dialogue in his films. Time, however, bucks the trend.

The film’s characters interact verbally in many scenes. However, I feel that this is a flawed move by Kim, whose thirteenth film would have worked to a far more haunting effect if it were done otherwise. The themes explored include the identity-love construct, dual identities, “the passage of time”, and the issue of plastic surgery.

Time stars Ha Jung-woo and Park Ji-Yeon as Ji-woo and Seh-hee respectively (beware, if you have trouble with Asian names, it’s going to get worse). They have been a couple for two years but the overly protective Seh-hee sees Ji-woo slowly losing interest in her. She leaves him suddenly and goes for a facial reconstruction.

Six months later, she returns with a new face as See-hee (note the spelling) and attempts to woo Ji-woo in a new relationship. The latter, who has been lamenting the loss of Seh-hee, becomes intimate with See-hee so that he can forget Seh-hee. He does so without knowing that See-hee is actually Seh-hee.

Yes, the story invokes intrigue. The potential is also there for Kim to create what could have been his best film by exploring more existentially and abstractly the themes mentioned above. However, slow pacing, uninspiring camerawork (but somewhat beautiful cinematography), and a feeling of “repetition of scenes” as the film takes its course inhibit the viewer from fully contemplating the ideas espoused by Kim.

Two-thirds into the film, See-hee wears a creepy mask of Seh-hee, thus revealing to Ji-woo the truth of her “(dis)appearance”. The plot then turns full circle when Ji-woo, out of frustration, goes for facial reconstruction as well. This is where the “repetition of scenes” comes in. 

Furthermore, Kim shoots the film in three major locations – the rooms of the lead characters, a cafĂ©, and a sculpture park – and edits the sequences in a recurring pattern.
While this keeps the viewer in a tight and claustrophobic loop that never ends, it does not quite engage as it should.

If there is something to gain from watching Kim’s film, it would be its enquiry into human nature. Can a person take on a dual identity without being jealous of his or her other self? Can the artificiality of plastic surgery replace or renew the genuineness of love? A second viewing may open the door to fully embracing what Kim has done here. If only the first hadn’t been a struggle to sit through.

GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)

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