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November 29, 2006

Time, 2006

time.gifOn the surface, Time is perhaps Kim Ki-duk's most brash, confrontational, and bituminous film since The Isle, an admirably crafted - and unexpectedly refreshing - return to his more familiar gothic, cringingly blunt, provocateur form after immersing in such aesthetically impeccable, but slight romanticized allegories riddled with obtuse, pseudo Zen mysticism and disjointed orientalism. Ostensibly presented as a dark, cautionary tale of an insecure woman, Seh-hee's (Ji-Yeon Park) desperate attempt to stop the process of time and recreate the spark of a new romance with her committed, long-term lover, Ji-woo (Jung-woo Ha) (a filmmaker who appears to be in the process of editing scenes from 3-Iron) by undergoing drastic facial reconstructive surgery in order to reinvent herself and, in turn, their relationship, the film is also a brutal and scathing exposition into the psychology and morality of contemporary (and in particular, Korean) society's obsession with cosmetic surgery. Nevertheless, despite Kim's penetrating, articulate, and relevant social critique, I can't help but express a certain degree of skepticism towards the very elements that, paradoxically, I find most trenchant and provocative about the film: a resistance that is integrally rooted in the film's uncanny resonance - not only in a vague, overarching, existential thematic semblance with avant-garde novelist Kobo Abe's recurring preoccupations on identity, alienation, and emotional disconnection, but in particular, with Hiroshi Teshigahara's earlier cinematic adaptations of Abe's work - that seem too coincidental not to be, at best, a faithful homage, and at worst, a lazy derivation. Indeed, this apparent plane of aesthetic convergence between Teshigahara's cinema and Kim's aesthetic vision for the film culminates with a similar, progressive montage, stationary camera ending shot, as a face obscured, "transformed" heroine (Hyeon-a Seong) of Time leaves the cosmetic surgeon's office and has a seemingly fateful encounter before slipping away from view and fading into the anonymity of a bustling crowd on a metropolitan city street: an image that seems conceptually readapted from the mise-en-scène of the concluding sequence in Teshigahara's The Face of Another (in which Okuyama's fateful encounter is with the doctor himself), as well as in The Man Without a Map (in the detective's deliberate act of relinquishing traces of his former life by following in the footsteps - and therefore, indirectly assuming the figurative identity - of his missing subject), a reflection of the protagonist's psychological fugue that is manifested in the detective's evasion of the missing man's wife in Teshigahara's film, and in the shattered, unclaimed, pre-operative surgery souvenir portrait in Time. In essence, the film's conflation of past and present (as reflected through the bookending sequence of a recursive encounter) represents the metaphoric collapse, not only of time, but of humanity itself, where identity is reduced to the reinforcement of meaningless social rituals and interchangeable, cosmetic masks, and connection is similarly revealed through equally impulsive and transitory acts of delusive, surrogate intimacy. It is this bracing - and brazen - social criticism that inevitably defines Kim's flawed, but impassioned observation of contemporary society's inherent dysfunctionality in the wake of facile, economic privilege: a lost generation foundering in a youth-oriented culture of vanity, rootlessness, excess, and disposability.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 29, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Kim Ki-duk


at best, a faithful homage, and at worst, a lazy derivation

I would say the latter is more accurate.

Very nice review. As a piece of social criticism, I feel Time fails. Kim lacks the depth (or desire?) to explore the nature of identity vs. image in the way that (among others) Teshigahara did.

But putting that aside, I think the film also fails as a drama. Even with a different face, are there not other ways you could identify your lover? Not in Kim's universe, clearly, where appearance is all there is. Kind of like his films.

Posted by: Filmbrain on Dec 04, 2006 11:02 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Filmbrain. I tend to agree with you, if Time works on any discernible level, it's only because there is a precedence with Teshigahara who explored these issues so much better in The Face of Another that we're left to fill in the blanks. However, I do like that Kim is at least "edgy" again and not pandering to some orientalist nonesense.

Your comment about other ways to identify your lover also reminds me of my favorite exchange in Teshigahara's film where Machiko Kyo's character explains that she thought that the mask was her husband's consideration. Kim's parallel is to see how the hands fit together just before hanging out to a pornographic statue park. Yeah, subtle.

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 04, 2006 12:11 PM | Permalink

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