Woe are the fools who define themselves by physical appearance. So cautions Korean provocateur Kim Ki-duk’s Time, an ironic stance given the superficiality of much of the Korean director’s work. For his latest, Kim tackles his homeland’s fanatical obsession with plastic surgery—an epic craze that’s driven nearly half of all young women to get a nip or tuck—via the existential horror story of Seh-hee (Ji-yun Park), an insecure, jealous nutjob who reacts to boyfriend Ji-woo’s (Jung-woo Ha) diminishing sexual/romantic interest in her by retooling her face, silently stalking her beau, and then reappearing six months after her surgery to try to court Ji-Woo with her new visage. Though its title explicitly refers to Seh-hee’s desire to return to an earlier, happier point in her and Ji-woo’s relationship, Time is also concerned with the correlation between image and identity, a link that Ki-duk weakly attempts to address via myriad mirror shots and lyrically off-kilter scenes set at a beachside abstract Sculpture Park featuring works of entwined nude bodies and sexualized conch shells (vaginas being one of many recurring motifs). There’s a gothic chill to the film’s raw depiction of going under the knife, as well as to the Vertigo-ish early going, during which Ji-woo begins to fall for the clearly bonkers Seh-hee version 2.0. Yet there’s a persistent, frustrating glibness to his depiction of vanity, distrust, and possessiveness that undermines any serious examination of the thematic issues at hand. Kim marries point-of-view shots straight out of Halloween with multiple histrionic coffee shop arguments between Seh-hee and Ji-Woo, the result being an awkward blend of terror and levity that nonetheless isn’t quite as detrimental as the third act, in which a protracted twist mires the film in red herrings and didacticism. Kim’s adeptness at crafting a haunting mood of longing and fanaticism is evocatively confirmed by a bookending scene that captures the circular inertia of his protagonists’—and, as implied by a subsequent closing crowd shot, all of Korea’s—mania for aesthetic beauty. But his hysterical melodrama and half-hearted suspense ultimately seem like cheap creative crutches designed to help the director avoid any incisive psychological study.
- Lifesize Entertainment
- 97 min
- Kim Ki-duk
- Kim Ki-duk
- Ji-yun Park, Jung-woo Ha, Hyeon-ah Seong, Sung-min Kim
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