NOTE: Please be aware that this DVD is a Korean import and is coded for Region 3 DVD players. In order to view this DVD, you'll have to have either a Region 3 coded or Region Free DVD player. [Recommended Region Free Players] It will not play in standard Region 1 North American DVD players.
While Korean director Kim Ki-duk isn't all that popular in his native land, he's quickly becoming quite renowned abroad for his dark dramas and twisted human interest stories. His latest film, Time, finds him returning once again to the bleak, misanthropic world view that has been so integral to many of his better known pictures, but this time he takes a much quieter approach to the subject matter. The results are, sadly, rather middle of the road.
Pretty Seh-hee (Seong Hyeon-a) has been going out with Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo) for two years when we meet them and she's concerned that his interest in her, physically at least, is beginning to wane. When she busts him checking out other girls her suspicions grow and when he's unable to get it up in the bedroom without thinking of another woman, they're more or less confirmed. This doesn't mean that Ji-woo doesn't love her, though there's definitely a part of Seh-hee that believes that. One day, when Ji-woo tries to call her, he finds that her phone has been disconnected. A visit to her apartment reveals that she's moved out. She's completely disappeared and not left anyone any forwarding information, and Ji-woo is understandably quite upset over this. What Ji-woo doesn't know is that she's gone off to have drastic cosmetic surgery to completely alter her face.
Over the next couple of months, Ji-woo goes on a couple of dates but none of them really work and it's obvious that he's still hung up on Seh-hee. This all starts to change, however, when he hits it off with the waitresses, also named Seh-hee (Park Ji-yeon), who has just started working at the café he frequents. They start seeing one another and their relationship gets serious but Ji-woo just can't get over his lost love. Ji-woo soon figures out that the old Seh-hee and the new Seh-hee are one and the same, which only serves to complicate their relationship even further.
Time is a mixed bag. Initially Seh-hee comes off as a spoiled brat, lashing out at Ji-woo in public and often going insane with jealousy. When the bedroom scene comes around, however, we realize that she's right about her boyfriend after all... at least to a certain extent. Her decision to completely alter her face is obviously a drastic one (though drastic decisions are not at all uncommon in Kim Ki-duk's filmography so this shouldn't surprise anyone) but it does make for an interesting 'what if' scenario that plays out with a few unexpected twists before the big finale. What makes the movie interesting isn't how Ji-woo slowly but surely moves on after losing her the first time, we all know that to a certain extent time heals all wounds. Instead, the heart of what makes the story work is Seh-hee's growth, or rather, her lack thereof. It is obvious from the start that she's got some serious self-esteem issues. When Ji-woo meets the new Seh-hee, however, she has got considerably more confidence. This is proves fleeting, unfortunately, as once she realizes that Ji-woo isn't over the old her she becomes jealous (of herself) and the walls come crumbling down once again as her character comes full circle. Kim Ki-duk has made very flawed characters interesting in plenty of his other movies, but sadly he fails to do so with this film. Their predicament is an interesting one but they seem to bring all of this misfortune on themselves.
The problem with the film is that it's hard to care about the characters. While it's true to a certain extent that their flaws just serve to make them human, neither Ji-woo or Seh-hee are really all that likeable, at least not likeable enough to attach yourself to. She's a nagging bitch at times and he's got a tendency to drink too much and not take others into consideration. They're both very selfish and while Seh-hee would like to convince herself that she's going through the surgery to win back her boyfriend's affections, the fact of the matter is that she put herself in that position pretty much all on her own, more or less as an act of vanity. Is the film a condemnation of overly jealous relationships or the futility of cosmetic surgery? It might seem that way on the surface but then it goes and tells us that she was right all along which it then follows by showing us that Ji-woo did love her after all. It sounds more confusing than it really is, though the narrative does ramble a bit, but the characters don't do anything to warrant our sympathy which makes their entire story hard to care about.
That being said, Time is very definitely worth seeing. It's quite well shot with excellent set design and classy art direction from start to finish. There are more than a few scenes that make use of some particularly striking imagery, some of which are quite chilling, and the color schemes and smooth camera movements used in the film give it a very polished look. Also worth noting is that the performances are very strong all the way around, making it even more of a shame that the story just isn't as gripping as it should have been.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc is sufficient, if unremarkable. Color reproduction is definitely on the flat side for some scenes, and then in others it's fine. The image is a little murky looking in spots and fine detail isn't as high as it should be. That being said, everything is perfectly watchable here, it's just a shame that more care wasn't put into the color timing of the transfer. Black levels are for the most part quite consistent and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts, but if you're looking for edge enhancement or aliasing, unfortunately you'll find it without too much effort. Flesh tones do look quite lifelike and contrast levels are decent enough. There is a bit more print damage than one might expect to find on such a recent film, but the picture has been properly flagged for progressive scan playback.
KD Media has provided a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track in the film's native Korean language with optional subtitles in Korean and in English. Although there aren't a lot of sound effects to play with, the 5.1 track does spread the score out a little more into the rear channels and for that reason it's preferable to the 2.0 mix, which isn't quite as full sounding. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The English subtitles leave a little to be desired as there are more than a few awkward phrases used and a couple of typos as well but they get the job done and you shouldn't have any problems following the storyline.
As is, unfortunately, the norm with Korean DVD releases, while the feature has English subtitles the supplements do not. The key extra here is a forty-five minute behind the scenes documentary that is shot 'fly on the wall' style. There aren't any formal sit down interviews with anyone nor is there any narration, it's simply a wealth of footage that documents that cast and crew at work. You'll see the director working with his actors and blocking scenes and you'll see more of the key moments from the film being brought to life, but unless you speak Korean you won't understand any of the dialogue. Thankfully, even without the aid of subtitles it isn't difficult to figure out what's going on and the absence of any real dialogue aside from that recorded on set makes for less of a language barrier than you might expect.
Aside from the documentary, KD Media has also supplied the Korean language t theatrical trailer, a still gallery, and text biographies on the director and the principal cast members. Animated menus and chapter selection is also included. Inside the keepcase (which is housed inside an attractive cardboard sleeve featuring alternate cover art) is a small booklet containing an essay in Korean text.
Beautifully shot and well acted, Time is an interesting drama dealing with how self-esteem can affect one's relationship with the opposite sex that unfortunately lacks the heart that it really wanted to have. It's bleak and meandering, but it's also very well made and even with the noted flaws, it's well worth seeking out. The KD Media release isn't of the best quality, but it'll do. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.