Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다) – ★★★★☆

Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다)

Right Now, Wrong Then (지금은맞고그때는틀리다)

Arriving in Suwon City a day earlier than scheduled, film director Chunsoo (Jung Jaeyoung (정재영) bides his time by wandering around the local landmarks. By chance, he runs into pretty artist Heejung (Kim Minhee (김민희) and persuades her to join him for a cup of coffee. As the two spend the day together conversing awkwardly over meals and drinks, Chunsoo and Heejung become closer.

Then, events play out again with Chunsoo’s more gentlemanly manner and Heejung’s greater sense of independence arousing slight variations in their burgeoning relationship.

Director Cheon-soo persuades artist Hee-jeong to have coffee

Director Chunsoo persuades artist Heejung to have coffee

Undeniably charming and beautifully told, director Hong Sangsoo‘s Right Now, Wrong Then is a genuine delight. The stirringly sensitive drama is the kind of story only the acclaimed auteur could produce, capturing the endearing awkwardness of human interaction with keen insight and is wholly deserving of its accolades – namely the Golden Leopard (Best Film) and Best Actor for Jung Jaeyoung at its premiere in Locarno International Film Festival, with more undoubtedly to follow.

It’s become almost a cliche in itself to point out director Hong’s interest in capturing the subtleties of human interaction, the awkward clumsiness of smart men over confident women, of repeating scenarios with slight adjustments in characterisation that result in rather different outcomes, but as he does it so insightfully it’s hard not to constantly acknowledge his deft skill in such areas. With Right Now, Wrong Then director Hong wonderfully succeeds in capturing the beauty of such moments with an endearing humour and grace that is captivating, conveying a palpable charm that was somewhat lacking in his prior effort Hill of Freedom.

Right Now, Wrong Then is in fact two films in one, and much of its pleasure is derived from juxtaposing both stories. In the first installment, film director Chunsoo is shy, secretive, and akin to a wannabe philanderer; in the second he is a shade more confident, honest and direct. The differences that arise through his interactions with artist Heejung, who is shy and passive in the first tale before later becoming more independent and assured, are subtle yet profound as conversations take alternate trajectories that greatly effect them both, resulting in radically different outcomes for their relationship.

Hee-jeong and Cheon-soo drink and converse as they grow closer

Heejung and Chunsoo drink and converse as they grow closer

In lesser hands such simple tales of strangers meeting would be mildly entertaining, yet actors Jung Jaeyoung and Kim Minhee fulfil the roles with astonishing nuance and depth, propelling the drama into one of the best K-films of the year. Jung, who previously worked with director Hong in Our Sunhi, excels as the sensitive Chunsoo by conveying the character’s social ineptitude wonderfully with awkward mannerisms and speech, while also managing to capture a unique sense of charisma with his forthright honesty later in the film. It’s clear why Jeong was the recipient of the Best Actor award at Locarno and he’s sure to add further trophies to his cabinet as Right Now, Wrong Then screens at more international festivals.

As Heejung, Kim Minhee is absolutely captivating. Her performance is unquestionably deserving of high praise and accolades. Her facial expressions and quirks, particularly during some of the film’s pivotal and revelatory scenes, contain so much palpable emotion that they resonate long after the credits have rolled. With Right Here, Wrong Then, and with her upcoming turn in Park Chan-wook‘s Fingersmith, Kim Minhee looks set to become one of the K-Film industry’s most sought after actresses.

The subtle differences in characterisation result in alternative outcomes

The subtle differences in characterisation result in alternative outcomes

Verdict:

Director Hong Sangsoo’s Right Now, Wrong Then is a charismatic, endearing tale of burgeoning relationships only the celebrated auteur is capable of telling. Wonderfully subtle, insightful, and humorous, the drama is a heartwarming tale of human interaction and the possibilities of tender new emotional experiences.

★★★★☆

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Busan International Film Festival (20회 부산국제영화제) Korean Film Festivals 2015 Reviews
Bang-woo and Hyo-gwan attempts to crack the codes

Moby Dick (모비딕) – ★★★☆☆

Moby Dick (모비딕)

Moby Dick (모비딕)

Conspiracy theory films, and the inherent shadowy figures that operate within and/or behind the government, are a fun and exhilarating sub-genre that express audience distrust of institutions as well as emphasizing their impotency. They also have an uncanny knack for tapping into social anxieties. With the Bourne series (2002-2007) the post-9/11 ‘Patriot Act’ was vehemently scrutinized, as the shadow operatives abused the use of satellites and phones in targeting alleged terrorists. Similarly Enemy of the State (1998) portrayed senior members of the NSA murdering senators and civilians alike to expand their power base and withhold information.

Moby Dick (모비딕) is concerned with the conspiracy theories that plague the South Korean government, a premise with huge potential due to the often tumultuous relationship with the North. However, due to the bland and uneven narrative and direction, central protagonists that lack charisma or intelligence, and most importantly the distinct lack of threat posed by the shadow organisation, Moby Dick largely fails.

Lee Bang-woo  (Hwang Jeong-min (황정민) is a newspaper reporter constantly waiting for the next big scoop in order to become renowned. When a bridge explodes and the government quickly blames the incident on North Korean spies, Bang-woo decides to visit the scene and bribes his informant for extra details. Shortly thereafter Bang-woo is visited by his young friend Yoon Hyeok (Jin Goo (진구), on the run for desertion, carrying a bag full of official documents and disks. Examining the paraphernalia Bang-woo realises there’s much more to the explosion, and other mysterious events, then previously thought and puts together a team of reporters – polite rival Son Jin-gi  (Kim Sang-ho (김상호) and code cracker Seong Hyo-gwan  (Kim Min-hee (김민희) – to uncover the secrets of the shadow government organisation whose symbol is ‘Moby Dick’.

Bang-woo begins to understand that other forces are at work

Bang-woo begins to understand that other forces are at work

Moby Dick is directed by Park In-je (박인제) competently, and the potential of the notion of a shadow government has incredible potential for a thrilling, gritty tale of political espionage. However the  narrative is often in complete disarray and lacking in focus that any sense of compulsion, and worse still immediacy, are completely lost. The opening shot of Moby Dick is the televisual image displayed from a CCTV camera as a bridge explodes; this in itself forces audience detachment from the severity of the cataclysmic event as the impact and ramifications are unseen, and considering it is the catalyst for the entire film is a rather odd form of representation. What follows is a supremely dull first act as protagonists are introduced sporadically and lacking in motivation. Bang-woo is a woefully underdeveloped protagonist who routinely displays naivety and idiocy, and aside from curiosity and selfish desire has little motivation for investigating either the explosion or the conspiracy. He is utterly inept at investigation and continually places himself and his colleagues in danger needlessly, yet his impotency is dwarfed by the unbelievable inefficiency of the covert group signified by the white whale. The syndicate are effectively reduced to hired thugs rather than efficient spies, who even display street signs highlighting that they are in residence – in crowded public areas no-less. Supervising the group is a mysterious man in a suit who, bizarrely, sits at a desk in an empty room the size of an entire floor in a building. Such a cliche again adds nothing to the threat apparently posed by the covert operatives who consistently appear unsure of their next move, from the illogical indecision to not ‘eliminate’ the reporters to seemingly random discussions regarding exploding planes and nuclear armament.

Rival Jin-gi joins the team using his own informants

Rival Jin-gi joins the team using his own informants

In terms of character Moby Dick has a highly skilled assortment of actors that are unfortunately never given adequate screen-time or dramatic scenes in which to display their skill. Hwang Jeong-min is noteworthy in this respect as he has little opportunity to perform his talents, as Bang-woo is a shockingly ignorant protagonist who is also very rude and unlikeable. Quite how he isn’t killed by the organisation immediately after emerging as a threat requires genuine suspension of disbelief, although the incompetency of the covert operatives helps in this regard. Instead the violence seems reserved purely for Kim Sang-ho as Son Jin-gi who is beaten and tortured, which appears to be his only function in the narrative. Furthermore Kim Min-hee is incredibly underutilized as Hyo-gwan, conveniently appearing when the screenwriters are in need of someone or something to propel the stalled narrative forward. The same criticism also applies to Jin Goo as Yoon Hyeok who could have functioned as a Jason Bourne figure, yet after his initial purpose of providing classified documents he strangely fades into the background. All the actors do the best they can in such limiting roles, yet the absence of character development and the lack of cohesion between them is detrimental to them all.

Bang-woo and Hyo-gwan attempts to crack the codes

Bang-woo and Hyo-gwan attempts to crack the codes

Verdict:

Moby Dick is a squandered opportunity, with talented actors and a fantastic premise that are let down through a narrative that lacks direction and focus. While it is generally competently directed, there is unfortunately no escaping the narrative inconsistencies, absence of character development, or lack of threat posed by the shadow operatives, all of which require a real leap in the suspension of disbelief in order for Moby Dick to remain plausible – or, for that matter, enjoyable.

★★★☆☆

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