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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Right Now, Wrong Then

I haven't done well with the Hong Sang-Soo (see reviews of Woman on the Beach and Night and Day). But the third time's the charm with Right Now, Wrong Then, an intriguing film that is open for viewer interpretation.

A famous director, (Jung Jae-young) is in a small city in South Korea to screen his latest film and give a talk. He's a day early, so he wanders around town and visits a local tourist attraction, some kind of palace. He sees an attractive girl (Kim Minhee) and starts up a conversation. She has heard of him, but has not seen his films (the lot of an art-film director). They go for coffee, and she relates that she used to be a model but is now a painter.

They spend the day together. He visits her studio, they go out for sushi and he gets drunk. He tags along to a small gathering of her friends. You think they might hook up until she finds out he has a reputation as a womanizer, and is in fact still married. She tells him to leave her alone.

The next day he is cranky at the screening and rants about how words have no meaning.

This is the end of the first half of the film.

The film then starts over. Same characters, same circumstance. It's like Groundhog Day in a way. The dialogue is the same at first, but the characters are shot from a different angle. Then the dialogue starts to change. She doesn't tell him she's a model. He asks about her parents. At her studio, he criticizes her work and she gets angry, but still goes out for sushi with him. He tells her he loves her, but that he is married. They go to the party but he is so drunk that he takes his clothes off. She finds this funny.

I read about the film a bit beforehand so I knew it was two movies in one, but I can see how someone could be very confused if they were in the dark. But I think this structure is genius. To me, it shows how the choice of words can change everything. If you spent a day with someone there is no way you could reconstruct your dialogue, unless you had an eidetic memory. If you had a second chance, you'd say something different--maybe better, maybe worse, and the outcome might be different. In the second half of the film, Minhee tells the director how honest he is, an it is honesty about being married that keeps them together longer than the first film.

There have been a couple of short films about this premise, played for laughs, and then an entire feature film, About Time, in which time travel is used to try to say the right thing. But Right Now, Wrong Then doesn't allow that luxury, it simply replays the day. I suppose Hong could have made an infinite number of scenarios, each having a different outcome. As a character says in Richard Linklater's Slacker, there is an infinite number of universes for every decision that you make. If you go right, that's one universe, if you go left that's another one. In Hong's story, this is two universes.

The performances are really great, too. Jae-young is particularly good, as he is kind of a stuck-up asshole but plays up the modesty. It's clear that he wants to fuck the girl, and you keep waiting for his move, but he blows it (at least in the first half). Minhee is a young woman who is adrift, complains she has no friends, and enjoys being fawned over for her beauty. Two very interesting characters.

I highly recommend Right Now, Wrong Then. You may have to see it twice to really get the full effect.

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