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Original Title:
Shi gan

South Korea 2006


Kim Ki-duk

Ha Jung-woo
Park Ji-Yeon
Seong Hyeon-a
Seo Yeong-hwa

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Story: Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo) and Seh-hee (Park Ji-Yeon) are a couple for over 2 years. Ji-woo actually is happy with his girlfriend, but as it is with men he also casts an eye on other women. Seh-hee tends to become incredibly jealous when he does so, and thus asks her boyfriend if he can't stand to see her face anymore. Ji-woo doesn't understand his girlfriend's problem, as he still loves her. However, from one day to the next Seh-hee vanishes without a trace and word of goodbye.
Half a year passes and even though Ji-woo after a while tries to meet other women again, these new relationships never get past the first dating. For one thing, because someone seems to be following him and interrupts his dates, and secondly it is because he can't get his girlfriend out of his head.
One day Ji-woo meets beautiful waitress See-hee (Seong Hyeon-a) at his regular coffee shop and she seems to be pretty much interested in him. Ji-woo also feels attracted to her. However, when she asks him if he loves her or is still waiting for his girlfriend to come back, Ji-woo has no answer. What he doesn't know: See-hee is actually Seh-hee! 6 months ago she went to a cosmetic surgeon, who gave her a new face...

Review: "Time" may not be one of Kim Ki-duk's best movies of the last few years, yet it's far more entertaining and easier to mentally grasp then let's say "The Bow". As an introduction to the work of this extraordinary director this might not be a bad choice and despite some flaws, which I will explain in more details later on, this movie is everything but bad. Kim has too much experience with the genre to mess up a movie, as it seems. Therefore, you can't really say that this one is a disappointing work of Kim, yet it surely is less profound and more importantly has more blemishes (which just so happens to be the movie's theme also) than we would have expected it from the director. Nevertheless, "Time" can be pretty moving and at times even disturbing. Criticism on Korea's latest beauty craze and the question for one's identity are wrapped up in a rather untypical manner for Kim. Despite some flaws, we can't really be mad at the director, as his drama still offers more than the ones of so many of his colleagues.

A provocative and unexpected introduction paves the way for what there is to come. We get to see a real face operation, straightforward style, with all the blood and cruelty involved, so that at the end we think that we are actually watching the work of butchers. If you have a weak stomach you absolutely should skip the beginning.
Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to the life of the couple of Ji-woo and Seh-hee. Every couple has to face some hardships or problems, eventually, but Seh-hee is extremely hysterically and irrational when it comes to this. Ji-woo surely does look after other women's skirts, but he is just watching and nothing more! Seh-hee's reaction is pretty immoderate and so it doesn't surprise that she thinks that an operation might be the solution of her worries. Interestingly enough, what she asks the doctor for is to make her look different, not necessarily more beautiful.
For 6 months she leaves her boyfriend without any notice about her fate, however, not without having an eye on him and preventing him from getting into a new relationship.

What "Time" really is about, becomes only apparent after that. Kim's work proves to be less socio-critical on Korea's beauty craze than it first seems. This is a bit sad, as this would have been a good topic considering that more than half of all Korean female residents of the age of 20 already visited a cosmetic surgeon. However, the director moves away from this aspect of his story and only gets back to it on a few occasions and in a very discreet way. What he really wants to bring into focus is the question, who we really are. What is meant by identity? Is this something merely defined by our appearance? Of course not, but the film becomes a bit twisted when See-hee asks Ji-woo if he loves her or his old girlfriend Seh-hee. Actually, Ji-woo still has feelings for his girlfriend and so he can't answer this question. Therefore, See-hee becomes jealous, but jealous of whom? Of herself... Here, it seems that a part of her splits off, and even though she understands the absurdness of her jealousness at the beginning and comments it with a smile, she becomes more and more obsessive and as a matter of fact seems to aim for triumphing over herself.

Concerning the achievements of the actors, we get high quality work, as not to be expected otherwise from a Kim Ki-duk film. Ha Jung-woo plays the male lead very convincingly and is someone we can instantly relate to, even if he actually might be "cheating" his girlfriend every now and then by gazing at other women. Park Ji-yeon as his girlfriend successfully builds the groundwork of Seh-hee/See-hee and Seong Hyeon-a ("The Customer is always right", "Lover") is the one whose job it is to imbue the character with more depth. She manages to do that with ease and proves that she isn't just the girl who should get the role of the erotic vamp. Especially the hysteria she depicts and the emotional breakdown later on, prove her talent as an actress.

Normally, this would be the time where I would go into more details about the numerous symbols and motifs that Kim Ki-duk likes to place into his movies. However, as a matter of fact, there is surprisingly little to say about it, this time. At the "sculpture park" there is some stuff for the interested viewer to analyze and the little intermezzo with the blind date is also quite nice, but there isn't much more than that. There is also a little girl, that conveys a love message to Ji-woo, and Ji-woo works as a cutter or something like that. The movie he is working on? "3-Iron", of course...
If you look more carefully you might find more stuff to work with, but Kim doesn't seem to ask his viewer to interpret what's happening on screen, this time. That's refreshing, as well as the fact, that the movie is full of dialogues and doesn't come as a celebration of silence, as it is normally the case with Kim's works. However, the director and the plot somewhere along the way get entangled in their own script. It seems as if Kim doesn't know where he wants to go with his film and what he wants to express. Sometimes scenes seem to be put one after another randomly. And what exactly does the movie's title have to do with the movie itself? Well, that you'll only understand at the very end of the film, when everything becomes a bit abstract and we get presented with a "Time"- circle. That's all very nice, but it's also strange. Did See-hee eventually lose her identity completely!?

When it comes to story-telling "Time" surely isn't conclusive and some scenes even could have felt ridiculous, like the one in which See-hee meets her friend with a photo of her old face wrapped around her head. Suddenly, there also seem to be some tears painted on that very mask?! Why this scene, despite all the absurdity involved, is pretty touching, nonetheless, is simple: Kim Ki-duk. This man has gained so much experience over the years, that he can even make a good movie, when he obviously has lost track of his story.
"Time" once again deals with love, but this time places more focus on one of love's many aspects: obsession. It would have been nice if the director would have placed more value on the criticism of beauty craze, but to make up for it the drama can score with its motif of lost identity. "Time" isn't one of Kim's best works, but he finally seems to be heading into a new direction. Therefore, this drama is definitely recommendable as Kim doesn't only aim for pleasing the art-house cinema critics like he did with his previous works, but also takes into account what the "normal" viewer would like to see.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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