Monday, 13 November 2006

Time 시간 (2006)

Almost a commentary on the dating game

Kim Ki-duk’s latest offering was not invited to Cannes, although Time harks back to the director’s sometimes harsh commentary on contemporary Korean society in his early films. Looking at the film, I can almost see why. Time’s appeal comes through its very weird premise: Sae-hee (Park Ji-yeon), possessive to the point of unhealthy obsession, decides that her hold over her still very devoted boyfriend Ji-woo (Ha Jeong-woo) is waning, despite her daily shrillness, tantrums, and demands for proof of fidelity. Giving in to her suspicion that her boyfriend would rather date someone new, the girl decides to disappear from his life, undergo extensive plastic surgery, then stalk the poor man before seducing him under a new identity (Seong hyeon-a) – but retaining her original name, just to freak him out a little since he’s still pining over her (the old her, that is).

There are a few things about Korean culture that you will have to understand before you can 'get' this film, though. The possessive, borderline psychotic, sassy girlfriend in so many Korean romantic comedies isn’t so much a convenient plot device or an exaggeration, but an almost realistic portrayal of how many Korean girls behave in a relationship. And apparently, this sort of behaviour is considered appealing and direct, and much favoured by Korean boys. So instead of being repulsed by the utter insanity of Sae-hee, puzzled by why Ji-woo pines over such a character and actually looks for her characteristics in other women he dates during her absence, I suppose audiences should fall over themselves at the depiction of a perfect relationship. And instead of complaining about how Ji-woo is a picture of passive-aggressive pathology (he’s a wimp when attached to Sae-hee but non-Korean audiences would consider his more than forthright dating techniques border almost date-rape), we should realise that this is how males actually behave in real life, at least in the Korean dating scene.

In other words, instead of a psychologically disturbing thriller dealing with the loss of identity brought on by plastic surgery (a very popular cosmetic enhancement procedure in Korea), or a dark comedy about the psychotic side of everyday dating, or a satire about how dating couples take photographs at the most kitschy and artistically pretentious (ergo grotesque) locations, Kim Ki-duk delivers an honest and conventional romantic drama with an extremely devoted couple (slightly more devoted that others, but still a conventional couple nonetheless) with gratuitous shots of "Sculpture Island", an outdoor installation art gallery located at a beach.

In other words, Kim Ki-duk wastes a perfectly perverse premise to make an artsy but hollow romantic drama filled with eye candy. I can imagine David Lynch using exactly the same plastic surgery premise, main characters, and dating scene to produce an absolutely horrifying and surreal masterpiece. And I’m sure that’s why the Cannes committee regretfully decided to skip the usually spot-on satirist’s work this year.

First published at incinemas on 16 November 2006

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