To borrow a phrase from Raymond Carver, Korean director (and School of the Art Institute alum) Hong Sang-soo makes films about what we talk about when we talk about love. When men and women are attracted to one another, how exactly do they communicate? How do specific turns of phrase become gambits designed to seduce? Why does flirtation sometimes become awkward and occasionally go horribly wrong? The prolific Hong has turned such questions into a veritable cottage industry, cranking out 17 character-driven comedies—many featuring innovative two-part structures—in less than 20 years. Hong’s latest, the ingenious Right Now, Wrong Then, receives its local premiere at Facets on Friday.
The premise: Cheon-soo (Jeong Jae-yeong) is a pretentious “arthouse filmmaker” from Seoul who arrives in a university town the day before his new movie screens at a local festival. He meets and immediately falls for Hee-jeong (Kim Min-hee), a beautiful but shy painter. The sexual tension between them is palpable as they spend the day engaged in a series of conversations at a coffee shop, a bar and a restaurant before parting ways at night. Although Hee-jeong is clearly attracted to Cheon-soo (not to mention impressed by his celebrity), he seems to be trying a little too hard to woo her and ultimately drives her away.
But wait: halfway through the film, the narrative unexpectedly starts over. The two characters meet again for the first time, only now Cheon-soo is more honest and relaxed. They again visit the same coffee shop, bar and restaurant, but the conversation flows more naturally and the two seem to connect more intimately. By having the same chance meeting play out in two separate realities, Hong offers a whimsical, droll and ultimately profound metaphysical inquiry into the nature of communication. He asks viewers to question how minor variations in word choice and intonation of speech can lead to different outcomes. It’s fun to watch and even more fun to think about afterwards.
For more information and screening times visit the Facets website.