Time (South Korea, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Haunting and disturbing, Time is the kind of motion picture that gets under your skin and doesn't let go. It lingers long after the final credits have rolled and, for those who see it with friends, it will provoke endless post-movie discussions. A meditation on identity and how our physical appearance relates to who we are, Time is the product of the fertile creative mind of controversial (some love him, some despise him) South Korean director Kim Ki-duk. Like Kim's previously seen international efforts (Spring Summer Fall Winter...and Spring, 3-Iron), this one takes a seemingly straightforward storyline and twists it to devastating effect during the final act. The result is a production of intellectual and emotional power. It's nowhere close to conventional and aptly fits the term "challenging."

The plastic surgery craze has gripped the world for decades, but it has changed in recent years from a procedure for the rich and vain to something that crosses all socio-economic barriers. With Time, Kim postulates the next step in cosmetic surgery: what if it was possible, with a few cuts of a knife and pounds of a mallet, to completely reconfigure someone's face with no scarring or side effects? You could enter a clinic looking like one individual and six months later (the recovery period) appear to be someone else. Imagine the number of celebrity clones out there... But this possibility raises philosophical questions. When an individual changes his face, is he the same person? Does such a radical alteration to one's physiology result in a psychological shift? How will others react? Will they be able to accept the "new" person as an extension of the "old" one? This is the territory in which Time resides.

Seh-hee (Park Ji-yun) is an attractive young woman who has been involved with her boyfriend, Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo), for two years. Her love for her beau carries with it an obsessive, jealous quality: she is frightened that he no longer finds her interesting and must fantasize about other women during sex to become aroused. To rectify this situation, she chooses a radical solution: facial reconstruction. She disappears without a goodbye, leaving Ji-woo in a depressed and lonely state. Six months later, she reappears as See-hee (Sung Hyun-ah), a waitress at a coffee shop frequented by Ji-woo. They begin a friendship which develops into something more, but See-hee does not tell Ji-woo who she is. She is in part afraid and in part desirous that he will come to love her as she is, not as she was. However, Ji-woo cannot commit to See-hee because he still carries a torch for Seh-hee. This causes See-hee to become jealous of her past self.

Time contains many of Kim's signature touches. There are some memorable visuals, the most creepy of which are the scenes in which See-hee wears a paper mask of Seh-hee's features. Roiling emotions are hidden beneath the placidly smiling exterior. There are also a number of scenes set amidst the statues of a beachside sculpture park that is almost entirely covered by water each high tide. (The one lingering image: a finger pointing skyward while the rest of the hand is submerged.) The film's episodic structure is similar to both Spring Summer and 3-Iron. There's also a recursive element to the ending that is not intended to be taken literally, but instead implies the repeated nature of these themes. The acting is strong, especially from the female leads - we never doubt they represent the same person, even though they look different. Ha Jung-woo, meanwhile, must convey both sympathy and selfishness as a man who is not always fair with his partners but who cannot understand why his true love left him without a word.

At it's core, Time is about love as well as identity. Love was a key theme in Spring Summer and 3-Iron. Kim does not judge the emotion, but lays out its positives and negatives. The film presents a balanced view of all aspects of the story by giving us access to both of the main characters' mindsets (except during the final act, when it follows only one on an increasingly desperate search). With Time, Kim has fashioned one of his most compelling motion pictures to date. For those who appreciate movies that touch the heart and provoke brain activity (as well as requiring reading skills - this is subtitled), this is worth the effort that will be needed to find it.

Time (South Korea, 2006)

Director: Kim Ki-duk
Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Park Ji-yun, Sung Hyun-ah
Screenplay: Kim Ki-duk
Cinematography: Sung Jong-moo
Music: Noh Hyung-woo
U.S. Distributor: Lifesize Entertainment
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2007-07-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled Korean
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1