Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2015 6:04 pm 
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He said, she said? Or she said, he said?

Right Now, Wrong Then, simpler in plot than some of Hong Sang-soo's earlier films, begins with his standard situation of an art film director, an ironic version of himself, not making movies but on a professional jaunt and doing some drinking and womanizing (or flirting, anyway). Ham Chunsu (Jung Jaeyoung, of Hong's 2013 Our Sunhi) has come to Suwon, south of Seoul, to attend a special screening of one of his films and answer questions afterwards. He's a day early. Flirtation and drinking take precedence; the film screening comes in second.

Going to a peaceful pavilion, the historic "Blessing Hall" palace, Ham spots a beautiful young woman, Yoon Heejung (Kim Minhee), sipping banana water. He is immediately attracted and invites her for coffee. She appreciates his attention, thrilled to learn who he is, even though she's never actually seen any of his movies. She's a fledgling artist, and invites Ham to her studio, and then to a cafe where they both get drunk. She remembers she's got a date to spend the evening with a woman she knows who runs a restaurant. They both go there, and get drunker. The next day, the hungover Ham meets the audience at the screening.

More and more Hong is into rhythmic repetition, sometimes to surreal effect, but he varies the forms this repetition takes every time. In his 2011 The Day He Arrives, for instance, which has similar bar scenes, the director protagonist, Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang), keeps running into the same situations and the same people. In that film, the parallelisms are overlapping. In the 2009 Like You Know It All (FCS 2010) the film is divided into two parts twelve days apart, where similar things happen.

Right Now, Wrong Then resembles Like You Know It All in being divided into equal two halves, with the movie titles coming in the middle to divide them. But this time they are flat-out alternative versions of the same sequence of events I've outlined above. Both versions begin very similarly in the pavilion where Ham and Heejung first meet; then things develop differently. In the first version, Han praises Heejung's painting, but in the second is more critical. In the first version there is a man at the restaurant who is only seen outside in the second version. In the second version, the drunken Ham takes all his clothes off for two socked strangers at the restaurant; Heejung only learns of this when Ham is with her near her house. She laughs and excuses it and kisses him, saying she will go home and greet her mother and let her go to sleep, then sneak out to spend more time with him, though she never does, and it's cold so he leaves. In the first version, hardly anyone turns up for the next day's screening, and the moderator is, in Ham's vehemently expressed view later, a conceited creep (an idea that has come in earlier films). Ham, still drunk from the night before, gives a wild speech and stomps out. In the second version, the screening is well attended and goes well and people express admiration and gratitude to him outside afterward.

With Nobody's Daughter Haewon (NYFF 2013) Hong presented his story from a woman's point of view. In Right Now, Wrong Then, he may be presenting first the man's then the woman's memory of events -- though which one is which may be debatable, and an irate young French woman with a feminist bent after the NYFF screening complained that this new film is just the celebration of a womanizer. Well, that Han has the repetition of a womanizer is brought up in both the first and second versions of events; on the other hand, unlike some of Hong's films, no sex takes place and Ham's relationship with Heejung seems quite chaste, his declaration that he would like to marry her rather sweet.

Mike D'Angelo says in his review of Hong's 2012 Another Country that "Hong tends to make the same movie over and over." True indeed, but always with variations, naturally. To compare and classify these repetitions with variation would require the kind of careful study an academic researcher might do, and a more precise memory than I can muster now. On Letterbox D'Angelo calls this new film the "Hong diptych" he's "been waiting for," and calls it Mulholland Dr. in reverse: grim reality first, wish-fulfillment fantasy second" -- but then he admits he doesn't quite know for sure if the two halves are her memory, and then his; or the reverse. Either way, he finds this one of Hong's most enjoyable films. He's right to want to see it again. There is much to puzzle over this time, though since this is the ninth Hong film in a New York Film Festival and I've seen one or two of his films elsewhere, it's getting harder for me to remember all the different parallel and overlapping story lines. Last year's NYFF Hong film, Hill of Freedom, includes (as I recall) recurrent sequences in a guest house with Ryô Kase that parallel the ones in the pavilion this time. There was a haunting sense of déjà vu even though what happens in the two spaces is quite different. A jaundiced viewer may say the director didn't have enough material and filled up two hours by running the same story twice. But I am a Hongista and am happy to observe the nuances. (See my Hill of Freedom review for links to all my other Hong Sang-soo reviews. Boyd Van Hoeij's enthusiastic review of the new film for Hollywood Reporter provides insights.)

Right Now, Wrong Then/Jigeumeun matgo geuttaeneun tteullida) / 지금은맞고그때는틀리다, 121 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2015, where it won three prizes, including the Golden Leopard (best picture) and Best Actor. Other festivals, including Vancouver, London and Toronto. It was screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival (US premiere, Oct. 9 & 10). US theatrical release beginning 24 June 2016.

Through Grasshopper Film, Right Now, Wrong Then will have a US theatrical release (unusual) 24 June 2016.


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