Dir/scr: Kim Ki-duk. S Kor. 2006. 96mins

A Kim Ki-duk film is never less than intriguing, and Time, his new feature, is no exception. His treatment of an increasingly fashionable theme, the popular use of plastic surgery to outsmart nature and relieve emotional insecurities, is in itself enough to draw attention. But as might be expected from such a film-maker, Time has more to it than its one-sentence plotline, and Kim Ki-duk uses it to tell an obsessive love story which, even if it does not fully explore several of the issues raised, nevertheless provides sufficient food for thought.

A worthy opener for Karlovy Vary, which begins later this week, Time might be a tougher sell than some of the director's earlier work such as the quietly contemplative Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... Spring. But it should nevertheless become a surefire festival favourite and solid seller among arthouse distributors.

Presented as an eternal loop, which ends at exactly the same point that it begins, the picture opens with a typical Kim Ki-duk sequence: a bloody close-up of a patient on the operation table, being cut up each and every way, in the minutest gory details. We are witness to the process that a person has to undergo before acquiring a new face and, eventually, a new personality.Here the plot then flips back to follow See-hee (Sung Hyun-ah), a beautiful but insanely jealous young woman, and her boyfriend, Ji-woo (Ha Jung-woo).

Fearful that every woman who gets near to her lover will trespass on their affair, and that he in turn is looking for fresh attractions, See-hee moodily sinks into self-inflicted despair and finally decides to undergo plastic surgery. She refuses to listen to the surgeon (Kim Sung-min) who assures that she is perfectly fine, so eager is she to create a different persona to rekindle any possible loss of passion between herself and her lover.

See-hee enters the clinic without telling Ji-woo, to re-emerge in his life six months later - although she has also been secretly regularly interfering every time another woman has attempted to take her place. Ji-woo, unaware of her past, falls for See-hee - now renamed Seh-hee (Park Ji-yun) - again. But jealousy rears its head when his "new" girlfriend finds herself competing against her boyfriend's love for her previous incarnation.

The furious explosions of impotent anger which led her to the first operation recommence, but are now directed against her former self, taking the audience back to the point at which it came in.

Working as usual from his own script and focusing mostly on his heroine, See-hee/Seh-hee, Kim gives scant attention to issues such as the actual meaning of love or the effect of a person's physical appearance on her identity. Rather he fixes on the profound insecurities lurking behind the most confident of exteriors and the mentality of an age that lends more meaning to how people look than to what they really are.

He pushes both actresses - Sung Hyun-Ah (the female lead in Woman Is The Future Of Man) and Park Ji-yun - into paroxysms of frustration that their character is unable to control, held as she is by her feelings for Ji-woo and her self-destructive passion. Their performances are top notch, as are the technical credits.

Somewhere between the end of the second act and the beginning of the third, Kim Ki-duk the editor lets down Kim Ki-duk the director and the work develops something of a soft belly, but it soon picks up again before neatly tying up all the loose ends.

Production companies
Happinet Pictures

International sales
Cineclick Asia

Executive producer
Michio Suzuki

Kim Ki-duk

Sung Jong-moo

Kim Ki-duk

Production design
Choi Geun-woo

Noh Hyung-woo

Main cast
Sung Hyun-ah
Ha Jung-woo
Park Ji-yun
Kim Sung-min