Right Now, Wrong Then


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Right Now, Wrong Then
"The film persuades viewers to zero in on the details by using its second scenario to invite constant subconscious questioning of what has changed."

A film director looks down from a window. Framed below is a young woman. She's pretty. A bit too pretty, he muses, and although our eyes remain on her, we see something of the kind of man he is.

That the latest drama from Hong Sang-soo should focus on the romantic possibilities between a famous older man and a younger woman; that relatively little should actually happen; that the audience should be invited to find meaning in the smallest details of mundane interactions - these things will surprise nobody. What is different here is the structure, which allows us to see two subtly different paths an attempted seduction might take. Fans of the director's work will look for a poignancy in the possible romance. They will find more of it in the second version, but both make uncomfortable viewing, and it's difficult to determine to what extent this was intentional.

To be fair, the expectations people have of flirtation and of interactions with strangers generally are heavily culturally dependent, so it's hard for a western viewer to make a full and fair assessment of what is going on. The shy young artist whom the director character, Cheon-soo (Jae-yeong Jeong) meets certainly doesn't know - she's young and naive and excited about meeting somebody famous, or so it would seem, although the final words of the first half, together with an abrupt shift in the music, momentarily introduce doubt - has she just learned to play this role in order to get what she wants? She gets Cheon-soo to look at her work, and to be seen with her, which might have practical value, and she gently manipulates events to ward off his advances even when seeming to return his interest.

Carrying us through an afternoon that turns into an evening and then into the morning after - twice, of course - the film persuades viewers to zero in on the details by using its second scenario to invite constant subconscious questioning of what has changed. Some scenes are very similar, as if the actors had ad libbed around the same lines, and are shot from slightly different angles that imitate the natural tricks of the memory. In others, hasty decisions see things play out very differently; and close to the end there's a bizarre scene at a party where things shift out of frame, in the sociological sense and - mercifully - literally, raising further questions about a certain type of male behaviour but leaving the viewer to decide whether this is light farce or something much darker.

All of this means that the film is much stronger in its second half. Despite a few cute in-jokes and the advantage of novelty, the first half may well struggle to hold audience attention; it's too slow and we have no real reason to invest in either of the characters. Ultimately, the whole suggests that Sang-soo is more interested in art for art's sake than in communicating with his audience, and whilst there's nothing wrong with that, it's a bit of a disappointment in light of the fact that he has previously shown himself to be adept at doing both.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2016
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Right Now, Wrong Then packshot
A middle-aged art-film director and a fledgling artist meet - she knows he’s famous but doesn’t know his films, he’d like to see her paintings.

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Writer: Hong Sang-soo

Starring: Jae-yeong Jeong, Min-hee Kim, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Ju-bong Gi, Hwa-Jeong Choi

Year: 2015

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: South Korea

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