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Time uses a surreal premise to speak harsh truths about romance

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Hate Valentine’s Day? We’ve lined up a week of holiday counter-programming, the best break-up movies and anti-love stories available.

Time (2006)

People tend to look for two things from a long-term romantic relationship: comfort and excitement. We want somebody who knows and understands us to the very depth of our soul, and we want somebody who can make our knees buckle just by walking into the room. And we’ve been assured that it’s possible to find a partner who can provide us with both of those things simultaneously. Kim Ki-duk’s bizarrely harrowing Time recognizes the inherent absurdity of that fairy-tale notion. Because it features a science-fiction plot, grisly images of plastic surgery, and characters who are constantly screaming in each other faces like lunatics in public spaces, few people would classify it as a romance. In its nutty way, though, Time grapples seriously with the question of why many relationships ultimately fail, which is an essentially romantic impulse. It earns its monolithic title by positing that time itself is the enemy.


After being together for several years, Ji-woo (Ha Jung-Woo) and Seh-hee (Park Ji-Yeon) are having trouble keeping the spark alive, with Ji-woo generally needing to fantasize about other women in order to achieve orgasm. Seh-hee concludes that he’s grown tired of her face, and simply disappears one day, with no warning or explanation. Right around the time Ji-woo finally starts to get over his grief and start dating again, however, he encounters a mysterious woman wearing huge sunglasses and a surgical mask, then meets and falls for a woman named See-hee (Seong Hyeon-a), who looks and sounds nothing like Seh-hee. (The similarity of their names is presumably a bit less clumsy in Korean, more along the lines of Kristin and Christine.) Only we know that Ji-woo is being seduced by his ex, who’s purchased an entirely new face and voice—and who paradoxically finds herself becoming angry at Ji-woo for preferring her new self to the fading memory of her former self. Eventually, she takes to wearing a paper mask with a photograph of her original face… and if that sounds wacky, remember that many a serious relationship goes through this process, only minus the plastic surgery and the deliberate deception. Time is an absurdist metaphor that gets at an ugly truth. See it with someone you think you still kinda love.

Availability: Time is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services.

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