Right Now, Wrong Then is the kind of movie that bores you to tears and then makes you feel like a dummy for it.
I hate to write off moves as “boring” or “slow”. I pride myself on my sophisticated tastes and patience with deliberating pacing. The latest feature from Hong Sang-Soo is the kind of movie I would very much like to love, but can’t honestly say that I did.
An accomplished filmmaker, Ham Cheon-soo (Jung Jae-young), is only in the South Korean town of Suwon for one day. While sightseeing at some historic palace, he happens to meet a pretty young painter, Yoon Hee-jeong (Kim Min-hee), and engages in small talk about her banana milk. The pair decide to spend the day together Before Sunrise-style. At first, Ham and Yoon seem to be bonding but things eventually get awkward when Ham starts to drink too much and Yoon discovers his reputation as a womanizer.
Right Now, Wrong Then goes from incredibly awkward to suddenly perplexing halfway through its running time when the film (complete with title card) abruptly restarts. We are treated to the same uncomfortable flirtation all over again, this time from different camera angles. The dialogue in the second segment is nearly identical at first, until the two characters begin to make different choices in terms of what they choose to reveal about themselves. The narrative gradually deviates from that of the first segment as we see the consequences of Ham and Yoon different (and usually better) choices.
The differences between the two halves of Right Now, Wrong Then are subtle at first and will reward viewers who have been paying close attention. Trying to spot these changes, according to some reviewers, is part of the fun. But it didn’t feel like fun to me. Watching the same scenes unfold a second time felt like a chore and, being so unprepared for the sudden restart, my initial confusion took me out of the movie. The differences between the two segments were so subtle at first that I often found myself wondering whether the segments were in fact different or if I had simply remembered the first one wrong.
That being said, it’s a clever gimmick that may actually have something to say about the choices we make in our relationships. It’s the kind of film that I’d love to rave about, but instead can only confess that it left me feeling cold.