Subtle. Leisurely. Repetitive.
South Korean director Hong Sang-soo has created in Right Now, Wrong Then a groundhog day of an experience that flows slowly.
As the film opens we meet Ham Chun-su, a semi famous art film director who has come to Suwon from Seoul to screen one of his films and speak to the audience after. He encounters the lovely younger Yoon Hee-Jung at a temple and they chat while he smokes and she is sitting outside. He seems somewhat lost and unenthused. She is shy, sad, and bored. Haltingly they strike up a conversation and find in each other that ineffable spark. They move so slowly it’s almost a shuffle. No one is in a hurry. I started thinking of it as a kind of “My Dinner with Hee-Jung”
“This doubled up story is thoughtful, introspective, and reflective on how subtle changes can affect outcomes large and small…”
There is almost no background music and very few extras. The main characters could be walking through a zombie apocalypse where even the zombies didn’t make it. It’s also weirdly meta being about a director of low budget art films in South Korea, which also describes Sang-soo, that actual director. Maybe this is the “making of” that just went pear-shaped? I don’t think so… I did check that the actor playing the director was not in fact, the director, and he’s not, so it’s comfortably at least at that much of a remove from reality. I do think the character is least an avatar of Sang-soo.
More conversation about art and film, food and drinks, followed by a small gathering of friends. Booze is consumed, drunken decisions are made, regrets and recriminations, hints and allegations ensue.
And then… an hour in… it starts over.
The movie literally restarts all the way back to the opening title. I stopped the playback, scratched my head, rewound a bit… yep… it starts over. I spent some time thinking maybe I’d gotten a messed up copy of the screener. I let it play for a bit and slowly, slowly realized that there were slight differences this time. SO, maybe this was a different edit? After a fashion that’s true. Sang-soo shows how the experience could have played out if slightly different conditions and decisions had prevailed.
As for the notion of multiple edits, I’ve often wondered if directors ever do that. It seems to me that some auteurs insist on creating a film primarily in the edit. I suspect Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t have the slightest clue what a final product will look like when he starts shooting… and then he winds up with 100 possible movies depending on the edit. Is there one film in there or many? Are we sculpting to find the perfect combination, or is it celluloid mad-libs?
Let’s say a studio gives you $100M to make the next “Iron Man” and you shoot 200 hours of digital footage that edits down to 90 minutes of pure crap that falls over into a smoking ruin on opening weekend. So you get drunk…. really drunk, and you go back to the studio, fire up the AVID workstation, and you recut that sumbitch until it’s the magnum opus you thought it would be. Then you go back to being a waiter or some silly ass thing. “I used to be a director. It’s a tough racket.” Somebody call up Troy Duffy, see if he wants to go to the pub.
“Such is Right Now, Wrong Then. Two temporal branches. One turns out arguably better…”
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Parallels” in which a pesky rip in spacetime causes thousands of parallel universes to converge, exploring the notion that time branches and every possibility is actually realized in the cusp of the moment. No opportunities are ever missed; but you just might be in the wrong temporal branch. This is also examined in the episode of Community called Remedial Chaos Theory.
Such is Right Now, Wrong Then. Two temporal branches. One turns out arguably better.
Once it’s clear what’s going on this picture is pleasant enough. Ham looks back over his life and sees points where different choices could have meant a happier life, perhaps, or not. It seems most people have a trajectory they are probably going to follow and will find a way to get there, regardless, whether it’s the best outcome or not. Time has a certain inertia that’s hard to overcome.
This doubled up story is thoughtful, introspective, and reflective on how subtle changes can affect outcomes large and small.
Right Now, Wrong Then (2015) Directed by: Hong Sang-soo. Written By: Hong Sang-soo. Starring: Jung Jae-young, Kim Min-hee
6 out of 10