While lacking the formal experimentation that distinguishes Hong Sangsoo’s best work (Oki’s Movie, The Day He Arrives) or the sheer giddy pleasure of his funniest movies (Hill of Freedom, In Another Country), Right Now, Wrong Then has a precision and focus that assures that, despite a certain conventionality, it will become one of his more popular features.
Split evenly in two halves, it follows a film director (Jung Jaeyoung), in town for a festival showing and Q & A, as he wanders about a tourist site where he meets a young woman (Kim Minhee). They talk, drink soju, make awkward approaches at romance, and ultimately split when the director is proven to be a dishonest, womanizing lout. Then the film resets, complete with a new title card (the first half is “Right Then, Wrong Now”, the second “Right Now, Wrong Then”) and we replay the same day but with significant differences.
The director in this version is honest and open (perhaps to a fault, as when a drunken overheating compels him to strip naked in front of his companions). Hong significantly varies his camera setups in the second section, creating more balanced compositions where in the first half the setups tended to privilege the director’s perspective (including a Hong rarity: an actual POV shot, the director checking out a young woman in the courtyard below his window). It’s a mature film, relaxed and confident with a simple truth to tell. But underlying it all is a palpable loneliness. It’s played as sadness, as tragedy in the first half, where the director’s faults lead to failure and angry isolation. In the second half, it’s a wistful melancholy, where people can find happiness in connecting with one another, with the full knowledge that any such connection is necessarily temporary. It’s a quiet and sweet film, a warm room on a cold night, and vice versa.