By: Henry J. Fromage (Five Beers) –
I’ve never really gotten the Hong Sang-soo cinephile devotion out there in some circles. I guess there’s something impressive about a low-fi conversationalist who makes largely the same self-examining film every time out reaching this level of film fest love.
I mean, Woody’s been doing it for 60 years…
In Right Now, Wrong Then, we see the same story played out twice, back-to-back: a film director (hmm, who is that supposed to be?) meets an artistic young woman, woos her, then goes with her to a dinner at her friend’s, which goes awry.
The replay structure is an interesting, if far from original (he’s even done it before), idea on paper, and Sang-soo does an interesting job of subtly varying the two sections by tone and performance, for which Kim Min-hee of The Handmaiden and his actorial stand-in Jung Jae-young are certainly game, with the former particularly acquitting herself well as the woman who gets fed up with his bullshit in several different ways.
She’s earned her wariness of men the honest way.
Jung is clearly a stand-in for Sang-soo, even more so than usual, but here all he gets is praise from supporting characters, either blatantly or even when disguised as a passive-aggressive dig. Are “you can drink so much!” and “I heard you have quite the way with women” ever going to read fully as criticism to a man? Not on your life. It’s like “I’m scared that your dick is just too big!”
This character is so evidently full of shit that it’s tempting to read this as some form of self-satire, but if that’s the case Hong Sang-soo never clues us in on that being the case. If he had any interest in that reading, in the second half he would have had the woman not have any idea who he was, perhaps, or at least have an opinion of him that was different than, “Are you really the great director Ham Cheon-soo?”
Everybody in America would recognize Jim Jarmusch by name, right?
In both sections Sang-soo is awfully pushy and insistent in an often sexist way in his pursuit of Min-hee. He gets called out at dinner in the first part for being a womanizer who dates women on his production and who, oh yeah, is married, but even that comes off as strangely boastful. In the second part he basically encourages her to sleep with a man so she can get her loneliness off her mind and really explore her artistic potential as a painter. Wtf?
In a weird wrinkle rumors have it Hong and Min-hee were secretly married recently- they’re certainly dating anyway. I’m currently taking odds on how long that will last.
“But honey, you’re an actress, and therefore crazy. Wait, wait! What did I say?”
Also, the scene in the second half in which the director admits to the painter that he loves her even though he just met her today and by the way has a wife and two kids gives a particular indigestion in the light of this fact.
The filmmaking is style-less and simple. Hong has never really displayed any real interest in filmcraft, focusing instead on self-psychoanalysis without any of the academic and professional credentials to be able to actually accomplish such an evidently complicated and exhausting task. Yes, this is what he does every movie, and also yes, after this, you can count me out of the camp of his admirers, more definitively than ever before.
Right Now, Wrong Then sees me get off the Hong Sang-soo train, at least until the next film festival showers accolades on him…
Right Now, Wrong Then (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Take a Drink: for every compliment another character gives the director character
Take a Drink: for passive aggression
Take a Drink: for generic artistic statements
Take a Drink: for sexist statements or behaviors
Take a Drink: whenever the camera pulls in
Take a Drink: for every different you notice between the two chapters
Do a Shot: for the big switch