The 13th film by South Korea’s demented Kim Ki-duk is this
typically nutzoid riff on plastic surgery and schizophrenia. Those
familiar with any of the director’s previous films will know what to
expect: an unrestrained and misogynistic gruefest with an unerringly
stylish, poetic edge.
Kim Ki-duk is one of the world’s most defiantly
idiosyncratic filmmakers, and one of the most prolific: he’s turned out
no less than 13 features in a 10 year period. From his best-known work
THE ISLE to the
repellent BAD GUY,
the outrageous war parable ADDRESS UNKNOWN, the highly experimental REAL
FICTION and the comparatively restrained SPRING, SUMMER, FALL,
WINTER…AND SPRING, Kim’s films are marked by a rare cinematic mastery,
an evident love of grossness and degradation, and an uncompromising
commitment to his own wholly distinct vision. The result is an ouvre
unique (and uniquely demented) in international cinema.
TIME (SHI GAN), from 2006, is the 13th of Kim Ki-duk’s
films. Since then he’s completed another two features, with several more
reportedly on the way.
The attractive Seh-hee lives with Ji-woo, her boyfriend
of two years. Seh-hee becomes extremely jealous of other women, fearing
that Ji-woo no longer finds her attractive. Eventually she decides she
can take it no longer and walks out, leaving Ji-woo devastated.
Unbeknownst to him, Seh-hee has checked herself into a
plastic surgery institute. She figures that facial reconstruction will
repair her fractured relationship with Ji-woo, and months later
reappears in his life sporting a different face. The two commence a new
relationship, at least until Seh-hee grows jealous--Ji-woo is, after
all, cheating on her.
Ji-woo is slipped a note from his long-lost girlfriend
requesting a meeting in a café. Ji-woo hastens to the café, only to find
Seh-hee wearing a photo of her old face over her new one!
This would seem to be the beginning of the end for
Seh-hee and Ji-woo, but he’s not finished. In order to curry favor with
his jilted lover, Ji-woo heads to the plastic surgery clinic to get his
own face transformed. When Seh-hee learns of this her tenuous mental
state deteriorates completely, and she comes to believe every man she
sees is actually her surgically altered boyfriend.
What distinguishes Kim Ki-duk’s films from other psycho
thrillers is the very real sense of insanity that powers them. Put
another way, this writer-director is undeniably gifted, but just as
TIME is a thoughtful and assured spellbinder packed
with bizarre touches. These include an exhibition of surreal sculptures
located on a beach the protagonists frequent, highlighted by a giant
splayed hand whose fingers form the steps of a staircase. Kim also
contributes a fascinating variant on traditional movie masks (like those
seen in THE FACE OF ANOTHER, SECONDS and
BRUISER) in the photo the heroine wears
over her reconfigured face. Kim is also, in keeping with his standard
mantra, uncompromising in pushing his ideas to their most psychotic
extremes; the film overall is so whacked-out that the hallucinogenic
final third, in which we’re given an uncomfortably close-up view of the
heroine’s deteriorating psyche, doesn’t feel at all out of place.
If I might hazard a complaint, I think the proceedings
are overly dialogue heavy. Kim Ki-duk is at his best with pure imagery
unencumbered by words (his best films largely dispense with dialogue
altogether), and the talky TIME gives ample evidence that dialogue is
simply not Kim’s forte.
TIME (SHI GAN)
Director/Producer/Screenplay/Editor: Kim Ki-duk
Cinematography: Sung Jong-moo
Cast: Sung Hyan-ah, Ha Jung-woo, Ji-heon Kim, Kiki Sugino