Right Now, Wrong Then at Facets

My latest blog post for Time Out Chicago is a review of Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then:


To borrow a phrase from Raymond Carver, Korean writer/director (and School of the Art Institute alum) Hong Sang-soo makes films about what we talk about when we talk about love. When men and women are attracted to one another, how exactly do they communicate? How do specific turns of phrase become gambits designed to seduce? Why does flirtation sometimes become awkward and occasionally go horribly wrong? The prolific Hong has turned such questions into a veritable cottage industry, cranking out 17 character-driven comedies—many featuring innovative two-part structures—in less than 20 years. Hong’s latest, the ingenious Right Now, Wrong Then, receives its local premiere at Facets on Friday. It is an ideal introduction to this singular filmmaker’s work and the funniest movie of the year so far.

The premise: Cheon-soo (Jeong Jae-yeong, hilarious) is a pretentious “arthouse director” from Seoul who arrives in a university town the day before his new film screens at a local festival. He meets and immediately falls for Hee-jeong (Kim Min-hee), a beautiful but shy painter. The sexual tension between them is palpable as they spend the day engaged in a series of conversations at a coffee shop, a bar and a restaurant before parting ways at night. Although Hee-jeong is clearly attracted to Cheon-soo (not to mention impressed by his celebrity), he seems to be trying a little too hard to woo her and ultimately drives her away.

But wait: halfway through the film, the narrative unexpectedly starts over. The two characters meet again for the first time, only now Cheon-soo is more honest and relaxed. They again visit the same coffee shop, bar and restaurant, but the conversation flows more naturally and the two seem to connect more intimately. By having the same chance meeting play out in two separate realities, Hong offers a whimsical, droll and ultimately profound metaphysical inquiry into the nature of communication. He asks viewers to question how minor variations in word choice and intonation of speech can lead to different outcomes. It’s fun to watch — and even more fun to think about afterwards.

For more information and screening times visit the Facets website.


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

18 responses to “Right Now, Wrong Then at Facets

  • Nathaniel Kanter

    If this movie could be summed up with just one word, it would be honesty. This film demonstrates the elements of the new wave Korea films through a focus on action, emotionally synergistic camera movement, and serves as an odd meta-commentary on how to converse with people properly not just of the opposite sex.
    This bulk of this film is made of primarily the long-winded conversation between the two main protagonists Hee-Jeong, and Cheon-soo. Although this film isn’t as violence packed as the other movie, it puts a subtle focus on the comedy of our own awkwardness. The cringe humor mostly stemming from the first half of the film with the director is a little too hyped up trying to impress the yearning painter. It doesn’t fail to capture every quip, every twitch, and every nervous chuckle that simply radiates a feeling of mutual social ineptitude with the audience. It’s this attention to detail to evoke a connection between director to the watchers.
    For such a slow-paced movie, it compensates the lack of thrill with a focus on the emotions of the characters. For example during the first half of the film, the almost vertigo inducing zooms on Cheon-soo invokes a synergistic feeling of distress. This is put to the max on the climax of the first half were this Hee-Jeong lives up to the rumors and blurts out in his drunken stupor about being married and the shockwave reeling in the pour heartbroken artist. This is taken in an opposite light during the second half during Hee-Jong critique of Cheeon-soo’s motives, painting, and motives to paint. Although the painting itself is completely out of the shot, we can see the director has cast aside his libido in order to focus on his fan’s brushwork and gives a genuine opinion on her flaws even if it ended up upsetting her. The camera also serves as a symbol of clarity and soberness(metaphorically speaking) as the first main difference in the second half is that Heong-Jeong takes a birds eye over the area as if he was taking a new angle of this new area for him.
    For the drunken nature of this film it also serves to provide a few guidelines on how to properly hold a proper conservation and how to have meaningful relationship. The first main reason why the director couldn’t charm the intrepid artist the first round because he was dishonest and uncivil. He was stringing her along with stale material in hopes of sweeping her off her feet as if he were still in his prime. Furthermore he was so hyped up during the cafe scene that every could feel Cheeon-soo’s discomfort. This introduces the socially inept with some simple guidelines on how to behave in a conversation. Now that what is not to be done is revealed we can see how charismatic a person can be free of detractors as demonstrated from Heong-jeong managing to make the joy of paper and writing utensil seem sexy. This path of honest and transparency allows Cheon-soo to not only be aware of the person he is, but come to understand him as well. This communication is what leads the second part of the movie end with her inspired to watch the directors films fully as it reminds her of the qualities he has demonstrated. It may be a work of fiction producing works of fiction but it still has value lessons that aren’t so far fetched in life.

  • Jazlyn Castaneda

    Right now, Wrong then was a movie I really enjoyed because of the way it showed both side on how a date could go. It can either go right or it could go wrong it all depends on how each person acts and what they say. For the first half of the movie the conversations between both characters was a little too hyped especially Cheon-soo when he tries so hard to get Hee-jeong’s attention. He never even tells her that he’s married which makes things really awkward at the Party they go to and the lady starts questioning him and the facial expression on Hee-Jeong drastically changes. In the second part of the movie they are more relaxed and are more themselves, Cheon-soo doesnt try as hard and actually tells her that he’s married. When they are eating at that sushi place they “fake marry” with a ring that he claims to have found on the floor and slowly after they begin to fall in love but they never actually tell each other, but we can tell by the way they talk to each other and how they act.

  • Kate Franks

    Right Now, Wrong Then serves as an incredible way to look at how we communicate, how intonation and word-choice matters, and how it can actually be a deal breaker or maker in the end. However, when looking at this from a few step backs, this film seems almost as though how humans learn to communicate with one another. When growing up, people learn how to become more eloquent, confident and honest. However, very rarely does any of this come naturally, rather people learn how to communicate purely by using trial and error, just like the set up of the plot for Cheon-soo and Hee-jeong. In the beginning, Cheon-soo is very cocky, and seems to lie or at least “paint over” the truth, in order to keep his date with Hee-jeong going as he is married. She has none of this and ends the date fairly abruptly. In the second part, Cheon-soo is honest with Hee-jeong, and though she knows upfront that he’s married, she still develops feelings for him and wants to keep engaging. Because of the essential “re-do”, it allows for us to see how Cheon-soo had messed up with another version where he doesn’t. It lets the audience understand what is and is not acceptable in Hee-jeong’s eyes, and maybe our own. This film is a great look into how people not only communicate with one another, but how they learn to communicate properly and effectively.

  • Renato Matusima

    The film Right Now, Wrong Then is a great example of how the works of society and social structures shape the way we think and communicate with one another. When director Ham talks to Yoon for the first time he stutters and acts nervous because she was so pretty. Communication is key, and it is how everyone including director Ham is able to express how he feels with Yoon, they both seem like people who are almost unhappy and want something new. When Yoon and Ham are drinking they are very expressive and release their tension in order to loosen up. Once they are in Yoons friends cafe in the first half one of her friends talks about Hams wife which Yoon had no idea about resulting in her feeling like she got led on and was another one of Hams girl. After this the film started over which was very unexpected and then you see the real meaning about communication hidden in the films second part. In the first part of the film we were shown Yoons painting in her studio and it was abstract but her strokes while painting were just single thick lines which is a metaphor for trying again over and over until you get it right. The fact that Hong Sangsoo did not film both parts of the film together instead waited a couple of months to finish the film shows you how him too was doing a redo on his film. You can tell it is later into winter because the ending scene had snow and it got much colder. This was a really nice way to see how communication and how you can really only learn by failing and redoing things.

  • Alex Barrett

    The film Right Now, Wrong Then was very eye opening. I thought it showed the viewers how different ways of communications are important. It showed us how the different way you say something can change the whole situation. I felt that the first time the characters were more guarded and closed off and the second time they were more open and comfortable with each other. I thought that it was very interesting to see the different outcomes from the film and the difference between the first time they meet and had trouble communicating they never meet again but the second scene where they were more comfortable and honest with each other they saw each other the next day. I thought that it taught the viewers a very important lesson which was being honest with your true feelings and those you feel it with. You shouldn’t hold back how you feel and if you aren’t honest with your feelings you might miss out on something.

  • Janet Camacho

    This film was definitely one of the funniest we’ve seen all semester. Cheon-soo had all of these awkward comments and responses during the first half of the movie that just made us laugh. What made them awkward were little details like his tone of voice or how fast or slow he was speaking. One example of this is him saying that he gets happy for no reason when he gets a paper and pencil. However, in the second half of the movie, things were much more relaxed, natural, and less awkward. We notice Cheon-soo acting different with Hee-jeong. For example, he is more honest, and is acting more like himself. This lead to some hard moments between the two of them, like when he talked about her painting she got pretty mad. However being honest and having good communication is the core of a good relationship. We can see this in the way the two stories ended. In the first one they just kind of went their own ways, but in the second one they ended on a really good note and had a big impact on one another. Like how Hee-jeong said she would now watch all of his movies. In the first half, their relationship looked like more of a fling, but in the second half it looked like they really fell in love with one another. It’s interesting to see just how much communication affects our interactions, and even a slight change in how it’s done can leave you with a completely different outcome. I was a bit confused when the first part suddenly ended, and then the movie seemed to start over again, but once I understood what was happening, I really appreciated it. Being a Korean movie, it’s neat to see Hong Sang-soo touching on the subject of separation, almost like borders, which connects with Korea being separated into the North and South.

  • Tania Jacob

    Right Now Wrong Then was a terrific movie. It was different from the other movies we have watched this semester because for the first half of the movie, the characters were very talkative and not as “natural”. Then, in the second half of the movie, they were “more honest and relaxed” like you mentioned in your article. I personally enjoyed the second half of the movie because it seemed so much more natural and they weren’t trying so hard to be someone else. One of my favorite scenes in the second half of the movie was when they got “married”, I thought it was so beautiful and they truly loved each other. I kept thinking something was going to happen between them but nothing happened. This truly is a story about two “alone” people united by a form of art, a director and a shy painter. Overall, I liked the concept for the film and the simplicity and I would recommend watching it again.

  • Max Taddeo

    This movie differs greatly from previously watched movies in class. Though it is a genre that doesn’t often have violence, the past Korean movies that we have watched all contained lots of fighting and violence. All the others, leading up to this one, have had blood and gore but not Right Now, Wrong Then. This movie is about the relationship between two people and the idea that subtle differences can end up being quite impactful. One part that was most noticeably different in the second half was that his lecture seemed have been a success and you don’t even get to see what happens during it. In the first part he gets all emotional and is cursing when speaking in his lecture, and the audience seems off put by it. It was really a train wreck. In the second part, the night before seemed to have gone better than in the first part. The next day when he is giving his lecture you don’t get to see what he says to the people, but it isn’t hard to see that he did a good job. It’s interesting to see how the timing and use of emotion can play so differently into various situations. It’s emotion and honesty that worked best for him in the second part and seems to be what ruined his lecture in the first part. When you watch the first part Cheon-Soo is never very straight forward and doesn’t communicate too well with Hee-Jeong. For example, when they are getting dinner Cheon-Soo talks about the rings and marriage rather than in the second part where he brings up that he is married. He also says to Hee-Jeong that he wants to marry her. Another time where they choose to exclude something from the second part is the painting. He is honest about how he feels about the painting the second time and everyone watching wants to know whether or not it’s the same painting as shown in the first part, but that is something that you never get to see. Regardless that she doesn’t appreciate his criticism, she seems to like him more in the second part. It’s another reason that the second part is about honesty and being genuine. Nobody likes a brown nose yes man and the change in Cheon-Soo the second time through demonstrates that. I liked the movie overall. I thought that since the movie was going to show the same events twice that it was going to feel repetitive and annoying, but it varied enough to keep it interesting.

  • Alexander Miehl

    This 2015 film by Hong Sang Soo is a delightful romp through romance, humor, communication and awkwardness. As you stated, the first part of the film it seems the characters come across a bit too strong, but in the second half the characters allow themselves to relax and be a bit more honest and upfront. This reminds me of the premise of the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day” except the characters are unaware that it is happening.

    I think this is a situation that we all dream about. We all have conversations that we wish we could go back and redo. We all wonder how a situation would have played out if we did things just a little differently. This reminds me of an episode in “Seinfeld” where George reflects on his life and how everything he does ends up wrong. With the encouragement of his friends he decides to do the “opposite” of all his instincts. It ends up being good advice and things start to go well for him.

    In a sense, this film is similar to that episode of Seinfeld. In the first part of the film the characters connect well, but it just seems like the male protagonist, Cheon Soo, is trying to say and do whatever he thinks the female protagonist, Hee Jeong, wants him to say or do. In the end, he pushes her away and he ends up upset and discouraged. When Director Hong gives us the unique chance to see their relationship play out again, the characters are a bit more themselves. Cheon Soo is much more honest and open about himself and his past, and Hee Jeong calls him out on his poor choices. We begin to see how this approach changes the direction of their relationship. Even when he goes over the top with his openness, by getting undressed in front of her friends, she is still very much interested in him. Cheon Soo ends up being happy and satisfied with how his relationship with Hee Jeong ended, and so does she.

    This is truly a rare look into how things look when we just change a few small details. Hong does an incredible job of showing the same movie twice, yet still making it entirely distinctive at the same time.

  • Kyle O'Shanna

    Right Now, Wrong Then does something that the majority of people do on a regular basis: think about how things could have gone if we were to do something just slightly different. Director Hong Sang Soo invites the viewer to first observe an awkward, forced, fail of an attempt at Cheon Soo winning over Hee Jeong. In the first half of the movie, we see the cocky womanizer director role played out all the way to embarrassment and failure to connect with Hee Jeong in a meaningful way. Hong Sang Soo changes the main character in the second half of the film to be an honest, calm, yet passionate man who Hee Jeong genuinely begins to admire and fall for. In doing so, Hong creates a parallel universe in a sense; a place everybody can relate to; where just by changing some actions very slightly there are much different and usually more desired results. There is certainly a theme of honesty in this film due to Cheon Soo’s change of character and therefore a change in end result where him and Hee Jeong are able to actually connect and care for each other. That being said, I think another theme prevalent is of longing. This film expresses very well that people have intense longing for certain things: connection, love, and if that fails, the longing for those situations to have gone a different way. I find it very cringe worthy but at the same time comforting to see such realistic scenes shot such as at the sushi restaurant. These scenes show what an intimate date with two people trying to get to know each other might actually look like. There are pauses, there is awkward eye contact, there are moments you think they might kiss and the moment passes, and always entertaining; alcohol being present. In both halves of the movie in multiple scenes, there is conversation that is so obviously forced, so incredibly dishonest and full of effort, that you are reminded of times in your life that similar things happened, and while you may shake your head and cringe, it is all too understandable.

  • Mark David

    Right Now, Wrong Then was a really entertaining movie, it really kept my attention and was really funny as well. The protagonist Cheon Soo meet Hee-Jeong and falls hear over heels for her immediately. He tries so hard to win her over, but he tries so hard that it actually turns the girl off. They do have a long time spent together at the Coffee shop, the restaurant etc but unfortunately she just feels like he is too clingy and trying too hard and no girl wants a guy who tries so hard. Suddenly in the middle of the movie it almost like it restarts, they meet again they go on the dates but instead of being clingy and trying too hard, he flirts well, he knows the right things to say and do. It’s like it’s some twin that was the better version of him, thus the title Right Now, Wrong Then. The first time he was wrong, but now he realized how to do it so he is right now. Overall a really interesting and good movie. I would definitely reccomend it.

  • Megan Atwood

    Right Now, Wrong Then was really good and I liked how it kept my attention the whole time. I really enjoyed how Cheon Soo meets Hee-Jeong and falls in love with her right away. Cheon Soo tries to hard to win Hee-Jeong over but she starts top not like him as much. They spend a lot of time together in the coffee shop and the restaurant where he gets drunk. But unfortunately she feels like hes a little weird and that he is trying to hard to get her to like him. Then out of no where the movie starts restarts and they meet all over again. This time he is not to clingy or to tries to hard to get her to like him. But this time he flirts pretty well and he knows all the right things to say or even do. Its kinda like its another version of himself that’s better. That’s probably why the title is Right Now, Wrong Then. The first time he wasn’t doing things right but he figures out now how to do things right so he does. Overall this movie was really entertaining and interesting in how it was laid out. I’m total going to recommend this movie to other people because it was really good. I just think it was really cool how they redid the begin but two different ways on how he acts. I liked how they showed how he acts can have a different out come to things if he acts laid back or if he acts to clingy.

  • Matthew J. Strehler

    Right Now, Wrong Then was an interesting exploration into how people communicating in different fashions can lead to drastically different results. I was originally confused when the movie restarted halfway through, but I think that it was interesting how the director used the more relaxed, more honest conversation to show that sometimes it is possible to try too hard. The director’s sense of humor definitely shined at different parts throughout the film, making it one of the more interesting films we have watched in class. I think that it was very interesting how he chose to have the man undress in front of the woman’s friends and how it eventually led to them being closer, instead of her being disgusted by his actions. I think that the director’s main idea in making this movie is that organic conversation can be better than forced conversation and that communicating openly and honestly is ultimately better. I loved the touch he threw in at the end of the first half where the woman’s friends completely call him out on his lies and flattery. I think your article was a great summary of the movie.

  • Branden Wagner

    The film “Right Now, Wrong Then” demonstrates right from wrong… but with dating. At the start of the film, the male protagonist, Cheon-Soo, sees Hee-Jeong outside from his room and starts worrying about how he’ll approach her. Of course, he has very little, if any, confidence at all and acts kind of nervous around her and kind of says whatever will make her happy. He also does this when the two are together in a room that she paints in and after she stops painting to take a look at her work. He basically says that it looks great and that she seems like a professional, which is what she wants to hear but it’s obvious that those words are not his honest words. Eventually, Hee-Jeong starts to like him so much anymore because he seems to clingy, attached, and to nice. And so, eventually, they split and most likely never see each other again.
    The second time around, which is the middle of the film, he notices her but is more confident and honest this time around. Now, instead of being clingy, attached, and saying what Hee-Jeong wants to hear, Cheon-Soo says his honest opinion especially with the painting. This time with the painting, he actually critiques it a bit which upsets her but he is being honest hits time around. Being upset, she asks if all directors are like this. He replies with I guess we are. Now instead of just throwing himself at her feet, he is being honest with her and if anything, acting how you should around another person in general. Now, this time, when he is with her and her friends, he acts more like himself but he is a little tipsy when he’s there. So tipsy that he even takes his clothes off in front of Hee-Jeong’s friends. Later on, hse finds out about this, and while walking alongside him. However, she isn’t mad at him, instead she laughs and acts more understanding. This is due to him being more himself and honest with her and so, she acts more understanding than she probably would’ve in the first half of the film. This is most likely to him acting the right way now instead of acting the wrong way then.
    Altogether, this film shows not just how to act around someone you have feelings for but also just how to treat other people in general and just be a normal, honest human being.

  • Lloyd Trinidad

    Hong Sang-soo’s 2015 film, Right Now, Wrong Then, is about a filmmaker, Cheon-soo, and he arrives in town a day earlier than he is supposed to because he is having a screening for his film. Having nothing to do for the day, he goes to a temple and meets a painter, Hee-jeong. The film continues with the two of them spending their day together, going to a coffee shop and getting sushi. The film is interesting because it is split into two halves that are identical but has slight changes in its dialogue. The first half ends with Cheon-soo being exposed as being fake and a liar whos intentions for hanging out with Hee-jeong is to try to get into her pants. The second half ends differently, having Cheon-soo being portrayed as a much more honorable man and developing a real relationship with Hee-jeong.
    Right Now, Wrong Then being split into two halves, Hong decides to title the first half, “Wrong Then, Right Now”, and the second half taking the title of the entire film. My personal interpretation of the titles of the two halves is that since in the first half of the film, Cheon-soo is shown as a man that is trying too hard. He is consciously trying to say the right things to Cheon-soo but he comes off as being fake. This is where the title comes in. He is being wrong right now in his approach with Cheon-soo. For the second half, titled “Right Now, Wrong Then”, can be interpreted as Cheon-soo being right in his approach with Hee-jeong and acknowledging that the previous half was wrong. Also, with Cheon-soo being a filmmaker, the difference between the two halves can show the different drafts of the same script. Hong shows this through the different camera angles, lighting, slight changes in the dialogue, and even the change in the weather.

  • crdgirl1

    Right now, Wrong Then is an interesting and funny movie that really captured the power of conversation, timing, and being genuine has on relationships and perspectives. We see our characters in the same setting twice with two different approaches to conversation. Our main character Cheon-Soo, specifically, has this change and it is quite interesting how his second approach is more genuine, thus creates a better outcome for our two characters.

  • Emily Belga

    This movie told me a lot about intentions and integrity. It seemed to me that the differences that allowed a more genuine connection between them were subtle, and they take root in the mind of Cheonsoo before he even spoke. Ultimately, by contriving expectations in his own head, he botched their connection in ways he would never have anticipated. She recognizes him as someone famous, but is not familiar with his work. I think this affected the way Cheonsoo began to perceive himself during their encounter. I wonder how the film might differ if Heejeong was the protagonist. I do believe that people can always enjoy time with other people, but to furnish a genuine connection requires effort and sacrifice by both parties.

  • My Top 100 Films of the Decade | White City Cinema

    […] “By having the same chance meeting play out in two separate realities, Hong offers a whimsical, droll and ultimately profound metaphysical inquiry into the nature of communication. He asks viewers to question how minor variations in word choice and intonation of speech can lead to different outcomes. It’s fun to watch — and even more fun to think about afterwards.” Time Out Chicago capsule here. […]

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