Shi gan (Time) Reviews
There were parts of 3-Iron that irked me because they seemed completely out of the grasp of human reason - I didn't really understand why the characters were acting like they did. That was dumb viewing on my part...of course the characters are going to act unusual. They're inexplicably mute. In all of his films, Ki-Duk hangs reality to make a point or strengthen a theme. Even his comparatively austere Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring exhibits this. Bold choices like these can damage or enhance a film; the choices that he makes in Time are almost always for the stronger. The constant abuse of plastic surgery by the two main characters is a heartbreaking metaphor for relationships. Even though they have failed, time and again, to make their love work, they keep remodeling themselves in order to give it another try. Never mind the fact that it's the same person behind the new face - it's all they seem to know.
Whether you choose to view this as a relationship metaphor or a plastic surgery polemic - or both - is totally up to you. One of the strong points of Time is that it makes a very compelling point about a real-life practice without seeming preachy or distracting. Plastic surgery has become huge in Korea, to the point where it has positively effected their economy. Girls as young as 14 are getting eyelid lifts. The film doesn't trouble you with any of this though, instead making a strong insinuation through graphic montages that the practice is commonplace and completely brutal.
Time has some third-act problems, throwing in too many emotional climaxes and not really knowing where to end. There are at least three points in the last twenty minutes where the movie could have stopped and been just as strong, if not stronger, for it. Ki-Duk's films are generally littered with spots of empty air; this is actually one of his tighter efforts, at least compared to the suffocating Spring. Still, I feel like there were times when the movie just wasn't saying much. All is forgiven, though, when you consider how loud the rest of the film is.
At first I was wondering why the movie wasn't titled Face (since one of the main characters early on decides to have her face changed through plastic surgery); however, it becomes clear that this movie is not interested so much in appearance as it first seems. It is firstly a movie about time.
When we first meet the couple the movie revolves around, Seh-hee (the girlfriend) is suspicious of her boyfriend's commitment to faithfulness. She wonders if he is growing tired of her because they've been together too long. She ultimately decides to try and take their relationship back to the beginning. She wants it to be new in the hope that the newness will hold the relationship together. What she neglects (however trite it sounds) is the invaluability of time spent together. The characters spend much of the movie apart, and the viewer knows that a sad prophecy of loneliness is unfolding.
While the movie can function as a cautionary tale, it isn't really that engaging. Seh-hee is obsessive, insecure, selfish (since she's more interested in being loved than loving), and completely jealous. Ji-woo seems to be inattentive, and unresponsive to her concerns. Clearly there's a backstory of dysfunction that we never see. Throughout the movie, Seh-hee spends so much of the time not listening (and not believing) her boyfriend as well as throwing tantrums that I couldn't sympathize with her. When you can't sympathize with the main character of a story in nearly any way, the story has a problem. I'm not saying a character has to likable to be sympathetic, but I am saying that for tragedy to work correctly (and this is clearly a tragedy) there has to be enough in a character that we wish to see redeemed so that when the character is damned, we feel the appropriate emotional response of catharsis. I didn't feel it after watching Time.
Twice during the movie a character tells Ji-woo that Seh-hee must really love him. Neither character really seems to believe that's true. It's more of a nicety than anything else. We don't believe she loves him either, and that's the problem with this film: she doesn't love him, she just wants to be loved by him. Time can't heal that wound.