Right Now, Wrong Then
South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, a tried-and-tested festival favourite, stays comfortably within his territory with Right Now, Wrong Then, an understated exploration of the subtleties of human interaction. The film depicts an almost-love story between two people who meet by chance and, in a Groundhog Day-esque twist, repeatedly live out the same twenty-four hour window with slight variations. Whilst fans will no doubt find aspects in the familiar material to delight, Sang-soo is unlikely to redeem himself with his critics – whilst the formal gimmick provides a much-needed spark of intrigue, the relationship between his two characters unfortunately crosses well into the realms of the dull.
Well-known art house film director Han Chun-su travels from Seoul to a small festival in Suwon for a low-key screening of his latest film. Having arrived a day early, Chun-su wonders around the local area, meeting local girl Yoon Hee-jung, an aspiring painter whom he persuades to get a cup of coffee with him. An early scene in which Chun-su preaches caution to himself after seeing an attractive female festival steward – “So pretty, so slim, so young. I must be careful…” – has already hinted at a degree of lechery, no doubt enflamed by the gushing praise that women, as we will discover, are prone to bestow. Hee-Jung allows Chun-su a glimpse of her studio and work – Chun-su labours compliments of questionable sincerity to a nevertheless gratified Hee-Jung – before the pair go out to eat sushi and get drunk, whilst having a ridiculously boring conversation filled with inept flirting. Ultimately, however, the encounter ends in tears, as Chun-su neglected to reveal that he was married, and the two part ways apparently indefinitely. No doubt to the despair of all those that found the narrative tedious so far, we rewind back to the start and begin again, this time with subtle variations in the pairs’ interactions.
Whilst the second half does prove more interesting than the first, it fails to satisfy. Whilst the first half is infuriating due to the superficial, compliment-ridden nature of the conversation, the second proves equally unconvincing in an entirely new way. This time around, Chun-su’s arrogance and superiority manifests in an unveiled criticism of Hee-jung’s art, much to her displeasure. In spite of this, Hee-jung’s subsequent confession that he has fallen in love with her, despite being married, somehow guarantees her continued affection; Hee-jung’s ability to apparently fall in love in both scenarios hardly renders her in a sympathetic manner, with her ultimately appearing as an easily-impressed fan girl than a woman of depth or substance. What we’re left with is two halves of a whole, which are both far more wrong than right.
Right Now, Wrong Then does not yet have a UK release date. It is part of the Journey competition at the 59th London Film Festival.