Wednesday, October 07, 2015

NYFF ’15: Right Now, Wrong Then

Ham Chun-su is definitely the sort of director who needs more than one take. That is just as true of his own life as it is with his films. Strictly speaking, he will not know he is replaying his visit to a modestly prestigious film festival. The ultimate results will not vary so drastically either, but sweet regrets are much nicer than sour ones in Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then (trailer here), which screens as a Main Slate selection of the 53rd New York Film Festival.

Through miscommunication, Ham has come to Suwon one day before his film screens, but we doubt he had anything better to do. While killing time, he finds himself drawn to the shrine at Hwaseong Haeng-gung palace, possibly because Yoon Hee-jung is also a frequent visitor there. Despite his awkwardness, Ham strikes up a conversation, learning she is a former model who has forsaken her former life to become a fulltime painter. She is therefore impressed to learn he is an art-house film director transparently based on Hong.

Ham manages to spend the rest of the day and most of the night with her, but the drunker he gets, the more he sabotages himself. What was once a reasonably pleasant ships-passing encounter turns out to be rather disappointing and uncomfortable for all parties. Take two. Everything happens more or less the same, yet it is different. Yoon initially seems sadder, but Ham is more honest. Of course, since this is a Hong Sang-soo film, he gets just as drunk.

If you enjoy Hong’s films, you will flip for RNWT, because it represents the filmmaker at his Hong Sang-soo-iest. On the other hand, those who are not so into him might still give it a shot, because it is much less mannered and considerably more resonate than many of his prior films. Still, all his hallmarks are present and accounted for. It is a defiantly talky film, featuring a filmmaker protagonist and a bountiful stream of booze—so what’s not to like?

As the smitten Ham, Jang Jin-regular Jung Jae-young shows he also has the stuff to hang in Hong’s neurotic world. It is fascinating to see how dramatically he alters the colors and shadings of his performance with one small twist of the dial. While Kim Min-hee is just as understated, she lights up the screen with her sensitive, luminous presence. It is a wonderfully wise and sad performance that gets richer the second time through, even though her character remains in essentially the same headspace.

In RNWT, Hong captures the impressionistic sense of a late night spent with an almost complete stranger that you wish would never end almost as vividly as Zhang Lu’s Gyeongju (which is an absolutely terrific film). As with his previous film Hill of Freedom, Hong engages on an emotional level in RNWT, rather than just playing narrative games and reveling in clever banter. Bittersweet and subtle (two qualities that do not go together so often), Right Now, Wrong Then is recommended for those who appreciate mature relationship dramedies when it screens this Friday (10/9) at the Walter Reade and Saturday (10/10) at the Beale, as part of the 2015 NYFF.