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Friday, August 24, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Self-image drives twisted romance in "Time"

Special to The Seattle Times

It's been estimated that as many as 50 percent of South Korean women in their 20s — and an increasing number of men — have undergone cosmetic surgery in their quest for ul-jjang ("the perfect face"). If this suggests that South Koreans are suffering from an irrational plague of body-image insecurity, you might consider Kim Ki-duk's "Time" to be a pathological case study disguised as a romantic melodrama.

From its cringe-inducing images of cosmetic surgery to the underlying notion that physical perfection is an illusion that breeds unhappiness, "Time" treats obsession with beauty as an emotional disease that rots our souls from the outside in. Factor in the idea that all relationships change with time (hence the title), and you've got yourself a twisted yet altogether fascinating film about an extreme solution to romantic familiarity.

Young, attractive and two years into her relationship with Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo), Seh-hee (Park Ji-yun) is so insecure that she flies into a rage when Ji-woo so much as glances at another woman. She later apologizes for having "the same boring face every day," then vanishes for six months — the time it will take her extensive facial surgery to heal. She returns as a new woman, her name slightly changed to See-hee (now played by Seong Hyeon-ah), determined to make Ji-woo (still devastated by Seh-hee's disappearance) fall in love with her again.

As "Time" spins off in surprising directions, Kim (best known for "3-Iron" and "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring") goes a bit overboard with some pedestrian visual motifs and minor variations on repeated scenes, but in more ways than one, "Time" gets under your skin, leaving you to ponder its many implications regarding life, love and what we see when we look in the mirror.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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