"Night and Day" is centered around the mixed emotions found in traveling. Characters in the film are Sung-nam Kim, an artist selected by the Korean government that escaped from Seoul and ... See full summary »
The married Bongwan leaves home in the dark morning and sets off to work. The memories of the woman who left weigh down on him. That day Bongwan's wife finds a love note, bursts into the office, and mistakes Areum for the woman who left.
Kwon returns to Seoul from the mountains and is given a packet of letters from Mori back from Japan to propose to her. Kwon drops and scatters the undated letters. She reads them and has to make sense of the chronology - and so must we?
Quite by accident, a film director arrives in town a day early. With time to kill before his lecture the next day, he stops by a restored, old palace and meets a fledgling artist. She's never seen any of his films, but knows he's famous. They talk. And together, they go to her workshop to look at her paintings, have Sushi and Soju. More conversation follows, and drinks, and then an awkward get-together with friends where all sorts of secrets are revealed. All the while, they may or may not be falling for each other. Then, quite unexpectedly, we begin again, but now things appear somewhat different.
Right Now, Wrong Then is a film of two distinct halves. In 2 days of the life of a filmmaker, Ham Cheon-soo, in town a day early for a screening of his latest work at a local film festival. He meets a younger woman, Yoon Hee-Jeong, and immediately falls for her. She's an artist, and he views and comments on her work, then they go out to dinner where they drunkenly bear their souls. It results in an invitation to a friend's small party where a revelation embarrasses Ham to the point where they part ways on a sour note. He attends his film to a small crowd, conducts a hungover Q&A, and retires, walking away from the town for good. Roll title card "Right Now" rather than "Right Then." The film literally repeats from the beginning, erasing the first half. Like Groundhog Day but only a once-over, we get every scene again but from a slightly different wishful approach.
This second time the couple are honest, unlike the first time where Ham tries too hard to impress and Yoon retreats. Again, they fall in love, but given Ham admits to already being married, their feelings are mutual and emotional without being sexual. He may embarrass himself once more at the aforementioned dinner, but it does not result in a cruel parting, instead drawing them closer. It's a quaint experiment given the relaxed tone. The first half on its own is not a movie, and neither is the second. They're co-dependent to give the narrative meaning, but it's far from cinematic in tone. It's a filmmaker's revisionism of what could have been a perfect evening had the characters acted suitably. It's honest, rather than romantic – though the chemistry still bubbles in the air – and it's utterly bittersweet, in a similar vein to Before Sunrise, but strictly not Before Sunset.
It's my first film from Korean director Hong Sang-soo and ostensibly from his fans and critics, Right Now Wrong Then is firmly his style – including the Woody Allen-esque romance between an older creative similar to the director himself, and a pretty younger woman. The atmosphere is very modest with simple photography, though Sang-soo does punctuate some scenes with careful zooms. It's very easy-going filmmaking, and its concept makes the second half easier to watch because you know exactly where it's heading as it retraces steps while you have a sharp eye out for the subtle changes that make all the differences, but it doesn't beg you to keep an eye on every detail. Those differences aren't grandstanding though the narrative is clearly motivated by them. Sometimes a scene will repeat its approach entirely despite the previous scene being radically revised. It's trying to be very nuanced rather than having a 'sliding doors/butterfly effect' where causality makes the universe shift places.
Instead, the outcome isn't much different but the overall feeling is utterly converted. It's all down to the performances of its two leads, Jeong Jae-Yeong and Kim Min-Hee, to create that tone with their chemistry, who were most likely shooting both halves back to back, location by location. In both halves, Ham is still a jerk with a kind of irritating laugh, but all the characters are deeply human even if Sang-soo doesn't peel back their layers every time. There's a big heart buried in its very slight execution. However, Right Now Wrong Then is not necessarily about how honesty is a better policy – though Ham's harsh analysis of Hee-Jeong's art in the second half remains a sting that takes a long time to settle – but it's about how it's possible to love again. In this case, love doesn't have to be a complete turbulous affair, but it can still be a fulfilling and life-affirming night if approached accordingly.
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