As the opening title cards for Right Now, Wrong Then conclude, the final one reads: “Right Then, Wrong Now.” And if you’re anything like me, you quickly check the title to make sure you had not written it down incorrectly, and when you realize you had the title correct, you wonder whether the film will be divided into two halves, the second of which will be called “Right Now, Wrong Then.” That speculation turns out to be correct.
The concept of using two halves of a film to explore what might have been or alternate fantasy scenarios is not novel. However, writer and director Sang-soo Hong’s choice to recreate the exact same scenarios in both halves of the film but in completely different contexts with vastly different dialogue enables the second half of the film to build on the first without ever feeling stale.
One of the most notable change between the two halves is the behavior of director Ham Cheonsoo (Jae-yeong Jeong). He has come to Suwon to give a lecture on one of his films, but by accident he arrived a day early. In his sight-seeing around the city, he quickly sets his eyes and his obsessions on Heejeong (Min-hee Kim), whom he saw walking through the city. When they meet by accident, Cheonsoo wastes no time in capitalizing on his opportunity, and the two spend the remainder of his extra day together with him attempting to manipulate and control everything that happens.
The second half, however, replays that extra day, and it shows a different possible outcome. Cheonsoo and Heejeong spend the day together again, and they visit the same places in the same order, but their dialogue is completely changed, and more noticeably, Cheonsoo is genuinely interested in her as a person he met by chance. His ulterior motives are gone, and consequently, he converses with her honestly and straightforwardly.
From the order of the title cards, the film appears to be providing a commentary that states Cheonsoo’s actions in the second half are much more laudable than his actions in the first, even though some later scenes demonstrate how inconsiderate he still can be, and his inflated opinion of himself never vanishes.
Additionally, Hong employs long takes throughout the film, which he frequently holds beyond the end of the action in a scene. Long takes and holding a shot beyond the action are things that directors do all the time as part of framing and blocking. Incorporating those practices into the film itself, especially in the first half, reinforces director Cheonsoo’s point of view from which the story is being told. However, while the long takes continue through the second half of the film, the frames are not held as long beyond the end of the scene. This subtle change underscores the shift in the director’s behavior, as it discards telling the story from his point of view, thus portraying both characters as equals.
Right Now, Wrong Then (★★★★) is the type of film which I immensely enjoy as it slowly follows its characters through their actions.In discussing this sort of film, I tend to read observations by my favorite critics and then point and say, “Yes, what they said. I’m with them.” While I am sure that other critics will make more insightful observations about this film, my own favorite aspects of Right Now, Wrong Then were not only the beautifully framed long takes, but also is the way it contrasts wish fulfillment with a less desirable reality, because in doing so, it directly connects the consequences of its characters choices to the way each scenario plays out.