There are moments in life when we wish we could venture back in time and relive the same set of events, but correct what we’ve done wrong. These lost chances of what could have been and what turned out to be are what director Hong Sang-soo explores in his recent film “Right Now, Wrong Then,” which offers another intriguing character study through an experimental, mirror-like format.
The first half of “Right Now” features a semi-romantic relationship between film director Ham Chun-soo (Jung Jae-young) and amateur artist Yoon Hee-jung (Kim Min-hee), who meet at an ancient palace site in Suwon. The two engage in an offbeat, unsuccessful courtship that is rife with awkward conversation and graceless candor. In his overbearing willingness to please, Ham fails to reveal until the last second that he is, in fact, married, inflicting much unpleasantness on Yoon. All of this is captured in those 10 minute-long, unflinching Hongian takes, still full of cigarette smoke, alcohol and light comedy.
Kim Min-hee (left) as amateur artist Yoon Hee-jung and Jung Jae-young as film director Ham Chun-soo in "Right Now, Wrong Then" (Jeonwonsa Film)
In the second half, the story repeats itself from the beginning, but in a slightly tweaked, parallel-universe version. The “mistakes” that Ham committed in the first half are rectified. He becomes “more sincere,” according to Hong, and less desperate for approval, allowing him to better appeal to his female interest; hence the title, “Right Now, Wrong Then.”
The title was meant as a reflection on the first chapter from the viewpoint of the second chapter, Hong said at a news conference for the film in Seoul on Sept. 17.
“I think things become clearer, more understandable when seen in comparison with something else,” he said. “The first chapter sets the foundation, and the second one tries to be a little more objective about the characters’ situation.”
But the film is not so simple as to imply that a “right answer” exists in human relationships, or that they can be mastered through trial and error. The second chapter is by no means a perfect alternative, full of social blunders of its own, possibly more disturbing, kind. Many critics have written that the film, therefore, highlights the difficulty of committing fully to the moment, by exploring what could otherwise have been.
True to the auteur’s established style, “Right Now” is a film that ponders, without defining, lost chances and what constitutes “agreeable” social behavior, through characters who are painfully, but often endearingly, self-unaware.
“Right Now,” which won the top Golden Leopard prize at the Locarno International Film Festival last month, will open in local theaters on Sept. 24.
By Rumy Doo (firstname.lastname@example.org