Kim Ki Duk is a director that I have never really been able to come to terms with – the primal emotions on display in his films are often astonishingly unsettling and difficult to digest – but in his enigmatic way it always feels like he has something relevant to say about human frailty and a dysfunctional society. There often seems to be hard visceral anger in his films – like a feral animal trapped in a sack - and they generate very conflicting reactions and emotions from audiences. For me Samaritan Girl was a sublime but painful emotional barefoot journey across broken glass, The Isle both repellant and fascinating in its unspoken scarred desperation, Bad Guy simply repellant and vile in its brutally misogynistic theme. Misogyny often feels like a thread running though his films and whether it exists or is intentional is argued vehemently one way or the other by his fans and detractors. I tend to see it in many of his films and rumors of his private life certainly give credence to this. Still in a sense doesn’t this too reflect the world we live in?

Time is a truly misshaped and bizarre film that loses all bearings with human logic and behavior and begins to hyperventilate so badly towards the end that you want to give it a paper sack and ask it to breathe slowly. At the same time though it is impossible to take your eyes off of this misbegotten beast that seems to be so full of ideas that it feels like it is at times drowning under its own heady weight. What exactly is Kim Ki Duk trying to say in this film? Is it about total sacrificial love – is it about how neither love nor looks can stand the ravages of time – is it about the excessive vanity of society – is it about how ephemeral identity is – is it about our need to regenerate – to reinvent ourselves - to disappear – to seek approval – to find love. Maybe all of these, maybe none of these – I truly don’t know but this is one big messy combustible film that literally goes full circle and may be incredibly deep or incredibly shallow – but it certainly is compelling.

It begins with some graphic images of plastic surgery that immediately unsettles the viewer and prepares them for the odd psychological narrative ahead. Seh-hee (Park Ji-yeon) is a young woman on the verge of becoming completely unraveled by her insecurities in her relationship with her handsome boyfriend, Ji-woo (Ha Jeong-woo and looking nothing like he does in The Fox Family!). Her jealousy is tyrannical and unbalanced as she constantly angrily accuses him of being interested in other women and often causes embarrassing public scenes. She thinks he is getting tired of her face and body and one night when he is having trouble being aroused she tells him to think of a woman they saw earlier in the day and try to envision her naked breasts. This does the trick but that only makes her suffer more.

Her radical solution is to get plastic surgery that completely changes her appearance (now played by Sung Hyun-ah) and then disappears without a word to Ji-woo. But with her new face she begins to stalk him and to frighten women he is becoming interested in. Finally, she meets him but doesn’t let him know who she is – and discovers to her horror that Ji-woo was and is still very much in love with her former self. This only sets up the remaining frantic obsessed totally neurotic sections of the film that spill over on the screen like radioactive excess. Like all of his films it is beautifully shot with stunning imagery and the landscapes, the sculptures, the close-ups, the café, the volatile public outbursts – all felt very French New Waveish. One assumes that the enigmatic ending has some meaning, but trying to figure out what is just part of the puzzle of this film.

My rating for this film: 7.5


Reviewed: 03/07