TIME (aka. Shi gan) is the 2006 offering of acclaimed Korean director Kim Ki-Duk (the Bow, The Isle, Spring Summer Fall Spring, 3-IRON, Samaria). Kim's style of film-making usually involves limited dialogue, allowing silence to express the screenplay by way of unspoken emotional expression. Much of his films involve marginalized worlds or a way of life; he takes his audiences to that world, the main goal is to make us understand how it operates and see certain rules that may apply. In his film; "Time", he tackles the desire for youth and beauty, also the fears of love.
A young and attractive woman named Seh-hee (Ji Yeon Park) is worried that her boyfriend, Ji-woo (Ha Jeong-woo) is growing tired of her. She occasionally observes him looking at other beautiful women. She-hee is a jealous type and always insists that she doesn't excite him anymore during lovemaking. She-hee even goes as far as suggesting that he imagine her as someone else while making love. Seh-hee, takes drastic measures to keep her boyfriend's love. She disappears for a time to undergo extensive plastic surgery; to change her appearance.
Six months pass, and Seh-hee re-introduces herself to her ex-boyfriend as Ji-hee (Seong Hyeon-a, Woman is the Future of Man, the Intimate) and they start a new romance. Now, Ji-hee realizes that Ji-woo hasn't gotten over his former love; Seh-hee. She learns that he is STILL very much in love with her former face. Ji-hee is faced with a terrible dilemma.
Most of Kim Ki-Duk’s films have certain themes that reflect human misery and some vile characters that can prove alienating to some. His films such as “Bad Guy”, “Samaria“, “Address Unknown” and “The Isle” have presented themes that truly go to the depths of sadness. Among his films, “Spring Summer Fall Spring” and “Time” feels a little more light-hearted. Plastic surgery has become an "in" thing in South Korea, so it is no wonder that movies that deal with this current wave (Time, Cinderella) will be made. Unlike many of Kim's films, "TIME" has a lot of dialogue, although there are moments in the film wherein silence is used for expression. There are some subtle symbolisms and potent themes in the screenplay; I think the failure of communication as well as obsession are strongly represented in "Time". The film plays like a ballad, even though the setting is a huge concrete world, the film never failed to entrance me and at times, even bewilder me. The cinematography is great as usual, places are revisited, and photos are memorized but NEVER for a moment did the proceedings felt dull and boring. The cinematography is actually mesmerizing.
I've read that Kim originally refused to play "Time" in Korea, only after an online petition by thousands of fans did he agree to it. The film received a bit of disdain from the Korean people, which further cements Kim's status as an "outcast" director. "TIME" is far from becoming a mainstream drama, but surprisingly, it may contain a bit of sly humor which are absent in his past films. Kim never fleshes out his characters entirely, but one thing no one can deny is that he never fails to engage his audience's brain with cerebral fascination. Kim's style of directing is truly inspired; it retains that symmetrical genius, both in visuals and narration. "Time" may have a bit of a minimalist approach, the use of symbolic themes and metaphors in the sculptures, the proceedings stay grounded and still came to me as a slice of pure human drama than a fable.
The only thing with Kim’s films is the fact that sometimes, his screenplays may become too cryptic for its own good. I’ve mentioned that there are symbolisms and metaphors aplenty and one significant one is the scene when Seh-Hee wears a mask of her former face in the café. She then leaves to see her former doctor who then asks if she wants to be changed back, and she refuses. When she leaves, she leaves the mask behind, and the plastic surgeon tries it on, and then asks his assistant to try it on. I thought this was a way to bring a certain understanding to one’s issues, how else can we comprehend something without taking a step to understand? The final act is also a head scratcher, but I saw it as something to do with ‘time’ itself. Kim’s films can easily frustrate viewers, but the beauty of it is the freedom to interpret what you have seen. His films does usually make you work, and I love it.
The strong performance of Hyeon-A Seong is the highlight of this film, she succeeds in expressing all the needed emotions in portraying Ji-hee's character. She is excellent in her performance. Ji-woo's character isn't fleshed out as I would have wished. The two appear to be kindred spirits, both are obsessing either with the past and the future. Seh-Hee’s character is undoubtedly better written than Ji-Hee’s which may prove a flaw in its script. The lead characters' motivation in their actions is very much left to our interpretation at times.
"Time" may mark a new direction in Kim's work, only "time" (pun intended) will tell. This film tackles important issues even though it carries a different style to previous films and it is just as cryptic as his previous films, but it is still entertaining and nonetheless challenging. As usual, the climax of the film is left to the audiences' interpretation. "Time" is truly worth a look for fans of Kim Ki-Duk's work.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [4 stars]
I have the Korean region-3 anamorphic widescreen release by KD MEDIA while the U.S. release is letterboxed. This is the usual problems with Asian U.S. releases, they tend to lack the Asian transfer quality. VIDEO/AUDIO: 1.78 anamorphic widescreen. The PQ is exceptional. Bright, radiant colors with strong blacks(when needed). Clean and crisp picture quality. 5.1 Dolby Digital Korean track is sufficient for this film. The sound is clear with the excellent English subs.
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