This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.
The new Hong Sangsoo film, Right Now, Wrong Then, is very much concerned with the famed director’s usual themes. He is again at work with a story involving a hard-drinking filmmaker and the nature of casual encounters. But the movie is less about its surface than with an inquiry into its structural narrative. As always, it’s the differences from the works that came before it that excite. The nice thing about Right Now, Wrong Then is that it also affords the joys of differentiating it from itself.
The film is split evenly into two parts, showing the same characters and unfolding over the same period of time. The technical differences are few: a slightly different angle for a shot, zooming in on another character in the second version of the same scene. For my money, this contains the most appropriate and effective zoom of Hong’s career. The narrative changes also feel slight at first, but over time they change the story drastically. The dichotomy between the two is the characters’ willingness to accept the truth.
The first section, entitled Right Then, Wrong Now, is built on a creaky foundation of withheld information and little white lies. The filmmaker spouts insightful praise regarding a painting, words that it turns out he has recycled verbatim in every interview he’s ever done. He also does not acknowledge that he is married while getting closer and closer to the impressionable Yoon Heejeong (played fantastically by Kim Minhee). As the night wears on and the truth is revealed, it betrays, confuses, and ruins the budding relationship.
The second section, which uses the film’s actual title, brings the truth to the fore. The aforementioned painting is critiqued with uncomfortable opinions and the marriage is acknowledged early. It is the characters’ ability to confront these realities and accept them that allows their relationship to blossom. Honesty is the best policy, even when it leaves you drunk and naked in a room full of strangers.
The duality of Right Now, Wrong Then works outside itself as well. It might be the funniest Hong film, with inebriated follies and awkward social exchanges. But at its center, the film is possessed with a profound sadness. It is not a depression of grand sweep or epic proportions. It’s a quest for connection that gives way to resigned peace.