BFI London Film Festival: Right Now, Wrong Then

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Right Now, Wrong Then (Jigeumeun matgo geuttaeneun teullida)
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Starring Jung Jae-young and Kim Min-hee

by Ruth Thomson

The opening fifteen minutes of Right Now, Wrong Then by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo is painfully endearing. Film director Ham Sung (Jae-yeong Jeong) is in a small town for a screening of his new film when he meets shy young artist Hee-jung (Min-hee Kim) drinking banana milk in a local temple. Their ensuing flirtation, which relocates to a coffee house where their bashful interaction is inordinately charming, and then onto a bar where they manage to get completely wasted on lethal local spirit Soju, is something to behold.

The magic begins to wane distinctly as they move on to visit friends of Hee-jung where Ham Sung’s effusive ramblings begin to sound decidedly phony and Hee-jung’s infatuation starts to warp and fade. Uh-oh, is this guy just a bit of an idiot after all? At this point it all gets a bit Sliding Doors/Groundhog Day as we return to the opening sequence and see the whole thing again with very slight differences in conversation leading to very slight differences in outcome.

At a full two hours, it feels as though the premise is stretched to within an inch of its life, but ultimately that doesn’t detract from absolutely terrific performances in numerous brilliantly observed scenes – an inebriated Ham Sung deciding it’s a good idea to strip suddenly in front of his new love’s tame friends is particularly entertaining. The fact that drunk people navigating their way through an evening of attraction to each other is frankly fraught with the potential for disaster at the best of times (and is familiar to the best of us), makes the film comfortably life affirming. Next time you’re in Korea, go easy on the Soju.

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