REVIEW: DVD Release: Time

Film: Time
Release date: 23rd August 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 97 mins
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Starring: Ha Jung-woo, Park Ji-yeon, Jang Jun-yeong, Jung Gyu-woon, Kim Ji-heon
Genre: Drama/Romance
Studio: Palisades Tartan
Format: DVD
Country: South Korea

Award-winning (Berlin and Venice Film Festivals for Samaritan Girl and 3-Iron respectively) Korean director Kim Ki-duk flirts with controversy once more as he invites his audience to examine a world of unhealthy obsession, narcissistic tendencies and the violence of manufactured beauty, in a film only screened in his homeland after 10,000 South Koreans signed up to an online protest, thus forcing a limited art house release.

Sehie (Park Ji-yeon) is a beautiful, yet extremely insecure and jealous woman, who feels that her long term relationship with Jiwoo (Ha Jung-woo) is growing stale. With each passing day she believes that her beauty is fading while the other women Jiwoo comes into contact with during his normal mundane life are more interesting and considerably better looking than her.

Despite her relatively contented boyfriend’s protests, she persists with her paranoid thoughts and accusations, verbally abusing waitresses and cafe customers at the local cafe, the couple’s regular meeting spot. From a mind bordering on the psychotic, an idea is hatched as Sehie realises that something drastic needs be done to stop the situation escalating to such a degree that she will lose the love of her life forever.

After secretively consulting with a plastic surgeon, Sehie books herself into a clinic and begins the painful six month procedure that will completely reshape her face and, hopefully, achieve a higher level of beauty. Jiwoo is distraught at her sudden disappearance, he devotes time and effort searching high and low for his girlfriend, but, eventually, he admits defeat. Gradually, as his pain lessens, he begins to date other women, yet, in the back of his mind, he can never quite let his desire for Sehie go.

Several months later, a mysterious new waitress calling herself Saehie (Seong Hyeon-ah) begins to work at his local cafe. There is an instant attraction, a strange familiarity that Jiwoo cannot explain - he is compelled to be with her, yet Sehie still haunts his thoughts...

Time is an atypical and somewhat curious film from a director known for pushing the envelope with bizarre characters, often on the wrong side of the law, and left of centre situations. In this case, the leads are the epitome of middle class, law-abiding Asia - they hang out in coffee bars, have normal jobs, run of the mill hobbies and, on the surface at least, aspirations for a mediocre life. There are no fantastic monsters or ‘outsiders’ on the edge of society to invoke the audience’s attention, instead Kim Ki-duk utilises the desires and fixations that swim behind the eyes of these seemingly conventional citizens.

Ki-duk briefly begins his story at the halfway point, where we witness gruesome and detailed face surgery, before jumping back in time to the psychological lead up to Sehie’s extreme solution for solving her insecurities. Initially, the director draws us in by skilfully orchestrating his main actors - all well on top of their game - through a maze of raw emotions that he hopes will justify his severe story arc. Unfortunately, it is this intense story arc that is the weak link and, ultimately, the movie’s downfall. We are asked to suspend belief as each new emotional outburst grows in intensity and, like the story’s nervous bystanders, we begin to feel increasingly uncomfortable and somewhat alienated by a plot, now, punctured with too many unacceptable coincidences.

The cinematography is on a par with Kim Ki-duk’s usual work - in fact, it is particularly reminiscent of his earlier films The Coast Guard and The Isle, in style rather than the far removed content. The latter being his most controversial film, in the UK at least, after its release was delayed due to accusations of animal cruelty on set. The director later admitted, and voiced regret for slicing open a live frog and mutilating several fish for particular scenes within that film.

Other positives are that Ki-duk utilises the scenery and vistas to great effect, his use of colour is, at times, exquisite, and even the background music, often a weak point, is fine. The dialogue, for the most part, is believable, if not the motives and reasoning behind the characters’ words. If his idea was to make us question our identity, who we are, and if true beauty is more than skin deep then this movie does just that, albeit going too far in its search for answers to these raised questions. In fact, if we accept the plot’s weak points, as huge as they are, there is still much to be enjoyed by watching these occasionally mesmerising characters attempt to fulfil their passionate and seemingly unattainable desires.

Time is an engaging little film with a plot that is as compelling as it is frustrating, and a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ ending, yet easily worth 97 minutes of anyone’s time. MG

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