Right Now, Wrong Then
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Quite by accident, a film director arrives in town a day early. With time to kill before his lecture, he stops by a restored palace and meets a fledgling artist. She’s never seen any of his films, but knows he’s famous. They talk, they go to her workshop to look at her paintings, and they have sushi and soju. More conversation follows, along with more 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. An uncanny romantic comedy, RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN is a deliciously intricate masterwork from filmmaker Hong Sangsoo.
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★★★★½ review by Mike D'Angelo on Letterboxd
A.V. Club review. The Hong diptych I've been waiting for. Think of it as Mulholland Dr. in reverse: grim reality first, wish-fulfillment fantasy second. What makes it even richer is that it's not entirely clear whose fantasy version of the encounter we're seeing—his, it would seem for most of the second half, but the ending strongly suggests that it could be hers, which makes just as much sense in retrospect. Either way, or both ways, this ranks among Hong's most purely entertaining films, with perhaps the best chemistry ever between his male and female leads (both of whom, Hong admitted in a recent interview, were extremely drunk during the twin bar scenes). It's also touchingly optimistic, positing—in an amusingly absurdist way, thankfully; there's not a hint of moralism—that disarming honesty and candor will always succeed where deceitful manipulation fails. And then it even redefines the notion of "success" in this context (which is why it feels to me like her fantasy in the end, even if the whole stripping thing seems unlikely to have emerged from her unconscious). Can't wait to see this again at TIFF and zero in on the way that minor disparities lead to major shifts.
★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
"she forgives you because you're an artist."
Hong Sang-soo's best since The Day He Arrives. caustically clarifies his obsession with the dark power of honesty. i pretty much loved this movie.
★★★★½ review by Filipe Furtado on Letterboxd
“I’m dazzled by your beauty”.
Gestures of power come and go and we are just let by the traces of them, the memories and the movies.
★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd
Unbelievably, despite having just finished watching it a mere 90 minutes before we began recording this episode of The George Sanders Show, both of us neglected to talk about Hong Sangsoo’s latest release, one of our most-anticipated films of the festival. The Hong film is a perennial highlight of every VIFF (I’ve seen Like You Know it All, Oki’s Movie, Hahaha, In Another Country, Our Sunhi and Hill of Freedom here over the years) and Right Now, Wrong Then is no disappointment. It’s a very good film, while lacking the formal experimentation that distinguishes his best work (Oki’s Movie, The Day He Arrives) or the sheer giddy pleasure of his funniest movies (Hill of Freedom, In Another Country), it has a precision and focus that assures that, despite a certain conventionality, it will become one of his more popular features. Split evenly in two halves, it follows a film director, in town for a festival showing and Q & A, as he wanders about a tourist site where he meets a young woman. They talk, drink soju, make awkward approaches at romance and ultimately split when the director is proven to be a dishonest, womanizing lout. Then the film resets, complete with a new title card (the first half is “Right Then, Wrong Now”, the second “Right Now, Wrong Then”) and we replay the same day but with significant differences. The director in this version is honest and open (perhaps to a fault, as when a drunken overheating compels him to strip naked in front of his companions). Hong significantly varies his camera setups in the second section, creating more balanced compositions where in the first half the setups tended to privilege the director’s perspective (including a Hong rarity: an actual POV shot). It’s a mature film, relaxed and confident with a simple truth to tell. But underlying it all is a palpable loneliness. It’s played as sadness, as tragedy in the first half, where the director’s faults lead to failure and angry isolation, and as wistful melancholy in the second, where people can find happiness in connecting with an other, with the full knowledge that any such connection is necessarily temporary. It’s a quiet and sweet film, a warm room on a cold night, and vice versa.
★★★★½ review by Luke McCarthy on Letterboxd
First half plays like typical Hong, a barrage of awkward, uncomfortable romantic fumbling anchored by a frustratingly oblivious film director; in and of itself this section remains compelling, the two leads sharing a palpable (if tense) chemistry, the focus on Kim Min-Hee's subdued, open performance teasing out a very clear emotional throughline throughout the first hour. That this chance encounter fails rather miserably is predictable, perhaps expected, and yet the inevitability of the central relationship's disintegration becomes perhaps the film's biggest asset as we're suddenly thrown into its mirror image.
What's immediately obvious in this second half - apart from Hong's subtle re-framing of key interactions throughout the day - is the near-seismic shift in tone. What was once tense is now utterly relaxed, almost spiritual, every moment and line-reading somehow infused with a bittersweet tinge of wistful regret - many people have claimed this second half to be merely fantasy, or perhaps the 'ideal' version of what had previously failed on first try, but the elegiac nature of the piece points towards something much less tangible. The second half of this takes place in what feels like some kind of cinematic limbo, a space where dialogue and performance are informed by a past that has already been played out, but one that paradoxically ceases to exist. Cinema has given these characters the ability to repeat what they otherwise could not, an hour where each individual can perhaps be the truest version of themselves, even if they seem tragically aware of the way these scenes and interactions have previously (and perhaps realistically) played out.
It's no coincidence that the film ends with Kim Min-Hee's character sitting in a theatre, smiling to herself at the fantasy created by a man whom she may have loved but will never see again - an ode to the realities only cinema can conjure up.
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