English Title: Right Now, Wrong Then
Original Title: Ji-geum-eun-mat-go-geu-ddae-neun-teul-li-da
Country: South Korea
Director/Writer: Hong Sang-soo
Music: Jeong Yong-jin
Cinematography: Park Hong-yeol
A meta-meet-cute diptych from the prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN is set within two days and one night in the town of Suwon, an acclaimed art house filmmaker, Ham Cheon-soo (Jeong) is scheduled to give a lecture before the screening of his latest work, but he arrives one day earlier, and serendipity leads him fall in with Yoon Hee-jeong (Kim), a local young painter inside a Buddhist temple.
Struck by coup de foudre, Cheon-soo tentatively asks Hee-jeong for coffee together, and she eventually agrees (on the pretense that what an honor to be accosted by such a famed directer). Chronologically from the coffee shop, to her atelier, then a sushi diner until a small gathering with Hee-jeong’s friends in the night, the pair begins to know better of each other through their courteous small-talk and it is sheer in Hong’s wheelhouse when he patiently employs static frames and long-takes (with sonorous music cues) to elicit the polite but tangible awkwardness between two strangers shaping up an incipient acquaintance, constantly using racking focus to point up every subtle variation of their emotions (which leans more towards Hee-jeong since she is the reactive one in the courtship), and also on the strength of two leading players’ deceptively ad-libbing naturalism, consequentially, it creates an ensorcelling aura in defiance of the banal pleasantries as if we were watching a situation which would actualizes itself the next morning in front of our own eyes.
When the evening ends with an anticlimactic revelation and Cheon-soo is assailed by hangover and gall during his lecture the morning after, the movie starts anew, right in the midstream and we are miraculously transferred back to the beginning and what we have watched hitherto is expunged, but with the fresh foreknowledge in our head, to watching the same narrative panning out ex nihilo but in a slightly different trajectory is a mesmerizing process, not the least if we are intrigued to discern their behavioral niceties.
In the second round, Cheon-soo modulates his insincere propriety into an attitude larded with more honesty, both about his genuine feelings to Hee-jeong and to her artwork, no gobbledygook trying to patronizing her, his blunt opinion might be a flea in her ear, but in its own merit, it at least proves to her that he is not a pseud as in the first half. Also Cheon-soo reveals his marriage status in the diner sequences, where Jeong Jae-yeong tops off the protracted long-take with a stirring confession that mounts to a tremendous tour-de-force in this reviewer’s eyes. How many times one can experience that sensational feeling of falling in love so completely and helplessly, to those entrapped in the insensate impasse of middle-age, which becomes a blossoming opportunity they can hardly decline. It is more telling and ironic that Hong Sang-soo and Kim Min-hee actually precipitate an extramarital affair ignited by their first collaboration, and therefore she has become his muse both in his fiction work and in real life.
The second half (now) redresses what goes awry in the first one (then), and it reaches a warm and earnest coda, where Cheon-soo successfully lures her into watching his film, because up to that point, Hee-jeong has never watched any of them, a leg-pull of Hong’s own repute as an internationally celebrated name whose filmography is more heard in circulation than actually being watched by the common herd.
Unpretentiously accessible and tipsily lifelike, by and large Hong Sang-soo’s RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN is a prepossessing conversation piece with an ingenious conceptual wheeze which cogently puts him on the map for cinephiles all around the globe.
referential point: Hong Sang-soo’s IN ANOTHER COUNTRY (2012, 4.6/10).