“When it hits two years, you start checking out other girls. But it’s not because there’s no love. It’s because there’s no more thrills and turn-ons.” – Seh-hee
The most haunting relationship film I’ve ever seen. Time (2006, South Korea) pivots on the destructive words and goading that happens between a man and woman when their coupling becomes unsatisfactory, turning to irrational game-playing to arouse jealousy out of each other. The woman’s ego is more fragile. Extreme insecurity leads to her getting plastic surgery which results successfully enough post-procedure, but scars her soul. This was the thirteenth film written and directed by the great Kim Ki-Duk who directed my all-time favorite film — click here to reveal title.
Jung-woo Ha plays a guy attractive who is creatively unique enough that most white women I know would want to sleep with him. His character is Ji-woo.
Seh-hee (Ji-Yeon Park) strongly believes that her boyfriend Ji-woo doesn’t find her attractive, particularly after she catches him checking out a café waitress, and even more so when he flirts with a girl who just his car. After this happens, she behaves sexually different in bed, thinking that a “new girl” in bed is what he wants. Seh-hee is so reactionary about feeling inadequate for Ji-woo, she splits unannounced for six months so she can get extensive plastic surgery.
The plan is to come back into his life as a new woman and wow him, to wow him with expectations that she can satisfy his lusts to the maximum.
The message by director Kim Ki-Duk is that a new face and body, and new personality, can be warped to such extremes that his protagonist Seh-hee, following the demanding transformations, no longer recognizes her own self, nor appreciates her own self.
A couple of women come onto Ji-woo after Seh-hee has left. Ji-woo is a thoughtful guy into more than just the superficiality of looks, and if you scrutinize, he is more into the second woman that comes on to him, who is less conventionally beautiful but more intelligent and mysterious. But their connection is interrupted by an unseen stranger, the film clueing us (but not Ji-woo) of the information that Seh-hee is following his every move. Seh-hee, who disappeared into nowhere, is now stalking him.
Seh-hee, now a stranger with an unrecognizable face, turns up as a waitress at Ji-woo’s favorite cafe, spilling coffee on him (a deliberate move to make him take awareness of her) and then popping up on a ferry boat soon after. She seduces him. It’s an old relationship to her, a new one for him. Before long in their new relationship, she is trying to recreate moments from their previous relationship. He is befuddled and simply lovestruck.
But Ji-woo catches on. Here we have a Seh-hee who changes her body, but she is still the same crazy out of control person. Seh-hee is still perplexed, sown in jealousy, defeated by low self-esteem. She became pretty, which gave her comfort and won Ji-woo’s attention. But how long does pretty last when you don’t know how to act pretty?
Unlike most Ki-Duk films, “Time” contains a large amount of dialogue. Ki-Duk, one of my five favorite filmmakers, is a master of silence and meditation (best examples are “3-Iron,” “The Bow”), but this time he could not shy away providing ample, concentrated dialogue which he achieves with exceptional ease. This is perhaps the best dialogue he’s written for any of his films, shrewd and perceptive, but everyday true and direct as well. As always, Ki-Duk’s visual compositions are equally startling and impressive.
The film says something about bad relationships, without spelling it out. Metaphorically, how do you get over a destructive relationship? That’s the question. I came away with this: Time away is what heals, time away is what eventually kills an addiction to another person.
97 Minutes. Rated R.
ROMANTIC DRAMA / MIND-BENDER / MASTERPIECE VIEWING
Film Cousins: “Vertigo” (1958); “Woman is the Future of Man” (2004, South Korea); “Beautiful” (2008, South Korea); “Before Midnight” (2013).