“Time” – A.J. Hakari

(**WARNING**: Massive plot spoilers follow in this review. Although such twists are revealed early on in the film, those hoping for a pure viewing experience with Time had best be warned that revealing story details are discussed in the proceeding critique.)


Once in a while on these TV talk shows, you’ll see someone undergoing a complex process to look completely different, to experience life as someone who’s bigger, smaller, or has a different skin color than theirs. More often than not, such episodes are cheap ways of grabbing ratings more than they are serious social experiments. But leave it up to Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk to put forth the effort to take on the issue of changing one’s identity with a stern face. Time may not be as polished or involving as some of the man’s other works, but it nevertheless still embraces some of his own personal storytelling touches and comes across as a rather unique slice of cinema.


Things do not bode well for Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo) and Seh-hee (Park Ji-yun). Having gone out for two years, Ji-woo’s growing complacency and Seh-hee’s increasing jealousy towards any woman in Ji-woo’s vicinity have taken a mighty toll on their relationship. Things grow nasty to the point that Seh-hee flat-out disappears without a trace, leaving Ji-woo to wallow in his own personal misery and start to mull over what he lost out on. But six months later, along comes See-hee (Sung Hyun-ah), a pretty coffee shop waitress with whom Ji-woo strikes up a friendship that, thanks to his loneliness, quickly moves to the next level. However, little does he know that See-hee carries with her a dark secret that could very well put an end to her relationship with Ji-woo before it begins.


The old saying goes that time heals all wounds; not so for the characters in Time. In fact, the more time the principal personalities spend apart, the more time they have to stew on everything that’s gone wrong, inspiring them to make rash decisions instead of carefully planning out their next steps. Nowhere is this more true than with the character of See-hee, who, as the viewer learns not too far into the film, actually is Seh-hee, having undergone drastic facial reconstruction surgery. Her decision is born out of her own personal fears that Ji-woo has grown tired of being with her and wants to start over with someone new. But Ki-duk knows better than to use this aspect of the story as some corny, Mission: Impossible-style gimmick of face-swapping that confounds the viewer more than it intrigues (until the last couple of scenes, that is). Ki-duk parlays this idea into cooking up some very thought-provoking themes about personal identity and the nature of relationships.


What particularly stands out is the idea of what’s more important in a relationship: what’s inside or what’s outside? Can a person fall in love with someone who has a new face but still has the same insecurities as before? Time almost effortlessly takes on these heavy topics, relaying them to the audience in a plot that seems straight out of a sci-fi novel but has all the touches of a most tragic tale of romance. The delicate performances are right in tune with the story, especially the turns from Hyun-ah and Ji-yun, a terrific tag team of two distinct actresses playing the very same character. This goes without saying that the film gets a little too artsy for its own good. A sizeable chunk of the dialogue seems a little too pretentious, the last act gets a little too goofy for its own good, and for as often as the characters have emotional confrontations in the coffee shop, you’d think the owners would shoo them away after the umpteenth tantrum. But for the most part, the script is smooth and interesting enough, not to mention pretty active in terms of spoken words; those used to Ki-duk’s almost dialogue-free works like 3-Iron and The Bow will be surprised to hear a lot of exchanges tossed about during the picture.


Like most of Kim Ki-duk’s films, Time isn’t one of those pictures you can just pop in on a rainy afternoon and expect to enthralled from the word “go.” Admittedly, it does take a lot of patience to watch, but after you’ve experienced all of Ki-duk’s memorable imagery and how he’s managed to make a sensationalistic story seem subtle, you’ll know that the time spent watching Time was well worth it.


Rating: ★★★☆


-A.J. Hakari


Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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