Monday, March 7, 2016

Time (2006)

While promoting The Isle (2000), Kim Ki-duk was asked by an interviewer if he’d ever seen Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999). Kim’s response was “I saw Audition at Toronto and that movie made me realize that there is someone else out there like me. We are two of a kind.” Much like Miike, Kim has a very peculiar way of dealing with human relationships, particularly romantic ones. The romance in Kim’s films is often between two damaged souls and have either troubling beginnings and endings. For Kim’s characters, emotions that relate to love are like nerve endings. When exposed and irritated the response is extremely painful and reactions can be downright primal. In that sense Kim could also be compared to Andrzej Zulawski, although where Zulawski’s characters shriek and are almost constantly hyperactive, Kim’s are defined by their silence, with their occasional outbursts of extreme behavior doing the talking for them as evidenced in films like The Isle, Bad Guy (2001) and Moebius (2013). Despite the oftentimes dark nature of the romances found in Kim’s films, all of Kim’s films are made with heart which can sometimes make the films all the more divisive. Kim’s 2006 film Time is a quintessential Kim love story and a crown jewel in Kim’s filmography, working as both a twisted tale of jealousy and identity but also doubling as a rather biting statement on superficially in Korean culture.

Ji-woo and Seh-hee have been in a loving relationship for two years. Although he has never been unfaithful, Ji-woo has a wandering eye and Seh-hee is the extremely jealous type. Thinking that after two years Ji-woo is sick of seeing her face, Seh-hee decides to put herself through extensive plastic surgery, making her completely unrecognizable and disappearing from Ji-woo’s life without saying a word. Six months later, Seh-hee re-enters Ji-woo’s life with a different face and a new name, See-hee. The two begin dating (again) and Seh-hee’s plan seems to have worked as the new relationship has the spark of when they first met, however Ji-woo isn’t entirely over the old Seh-hee, causing her intense jealousy to re-appear as she finds herself competing with Ji-woo’s memory of her old self, forcing her to admit that she and See-hee are one and the same forcing Ji-woo to make a desperate decision of his own.

Parallels are often drawn between Time (Shi gan, 시간) and Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) which are apt in that both films feature protagonists consumed by obsession as a result of chasing ghosts however Kim expands on the idea by having a female character with a ghost of their own which Kim takes even further by having said ghost be themselves, or rather someone else's memory of their previous identity. As is the case with many of Kim's films, there is a great feeling of sadness that hovers around Time. Not just in the sense of Ji-woo's desperation following Seh-hee’s departure or even the crippling jealousy that consumes Seh-hee but rather knowing full well that the relationship that develops between Ji-woo and the “new” See-hee can only lead to more pain for both. One of the things that makes Time such a success is Kim’s ability to present the beginning stages of the fresh romance between Ji-woo and See-hee in such a light fashion with several legitimately sweet scenes such as the new couple spending the day at a park filled with surreal sculptures, just one of many examples of Kim’s meticulously composed imagery seen throughout the film. In Kim’s world however, there is always a lingering darkness and even these tender moments have a slightly morose bend to them. What’s also incredible is Kim’s ability to make the thoroughly disturbed Seh-hee a somewhat sympathetic character during the film’s third act, a testament to the incredible and at times unhinged performance of actress Hyeon-a Seong.

Again, Time could also be read as Kim commenting on an aspect of Korean society he feels problematic, in this case plastic surgery which is massive in South Korea. In fact, South Korea is nicknamed the plastic surgery capitol of the world and according to a 2012 CNN article, the business is only going to keep growing with tourists traveling to Korea specifically for plastic surgery. There are even hotels which partner with clinics giving travelers special package deals. Kim’s particular brand of social commentary hasn’t exactly done him any favors in his home country, with Kim releasing a particularly hilarious statement addressing his critics, “... I apologize for making the public watch my films under the pretext of the difficult situation of independent cinema, and I apologize for exaggerating hideous and dark aspects of Korean society and insulting excellent Korean filmmakers with my works that ape arthouse cinema but are, in fact, but self-tortured pieces of masturbations, or maybe they're just garbage. Now I realize I am seriously mentally-challenged and inadequate for life in Korea.” What’s certainly not inadequate are Kim’s films with Time being one of his very best not to mention having one of the most original storylines while at the same time being visually and emotionally stunning . Time is a film with something to say and says it in a way that only Kim could. A modern masterpiece.

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