Sae-hee, having turned paranoid and psychotic regarding her boyfriend's interactions with other women, decides to use plastic surgery as a tool to guarantee that their love will transcend time. Strangely, Sae-hee is perfectly attractive and young. Her deeper concerns are simply that her boyfriend Ji-woo has grown bored with her. Ji-woo is himself a young, attractive man who has little trouble getting dates if he wants to, and Sae-hee feels as their relationship is cheating him of his chance to have a varied, interesting sex life.
What marks "Time" as disturbing is just how scarily reasonable this sounds. It's little trouble to find a young person in real life seriously use this as an argument for "playing the field" and avoiding genuine monogamy. But Sae-hee still believes in love. She truly loves Ji-woo. So in order to obtain what she sees as true happiness, Sae-hee resorts to deceiving Ji-woo and causing him emotional pain in the short term so as to eventually achieve an idealized happy ending.
The twisted logic of her plan is fully impressed on the viewer as we proceed to see life from Ji-woo's point of view. He truly loves Sae-hee, too. Her disappearance causes him a great deal of turmoil, and he resorts to playing the field simply to shut this pain out and hide it away. But he's not happy by any stretch- every woman he meets is just an aid to counteract his loneliness, if only for a single night. Whether they even have sex is besides the point- Ji-woo just doesn't want to feel abandoned.
Plastic surgery is often maligned as wrecking personal body image. What director Kim Ki-duk brilliantly realizes in "Time" is that plastic surgery is the mere instrument through which Sae-hee hopes to attain the twisted modern notion of "love". The poison of this modern ideal seeps throughout this film. Romantic power is defined as the ability to hurt someone through rejecting them. An unattractive person at least has the excuse of not having the right look. But to an attractive person this insult is transcendent and horribly painful. They're left in the unenviable position of having to articulate their feelings when every influence they receive is telling them to just ignore personalities and focus on the sex.
This film is truly heartbreaking as a result, as it becomes clear the longer the film goes on that Sae-hee and Ji-woo really do have a sincere, genuine love for each other- and that society has forced them to sublimate it by not allowing them to acknowledge that their relationship is based on more than looks. Their love is transformed into fraudulence for no other reason than that a fake is considered more valuable than the genuine article- and it only seems like that because the true treasure has been discarded.
"Time" is a brilliant statement on how culture has warped body perception. Though it could easily be called an anti-plastic surgery film, I find that title to be insulting. It implies a much simpler problem than what Kim Ki-duk illustrates on-screen. The concept of "Time" is only an excuse. The reality of Sae-hee's skewed perspective, much like her love for Ji-woo, transcends that notion, and defines "Time" as a true work of art.
Review by William Schwartz
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Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Time""
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