Controversial but always interesting South Korean director Ki-duk Kim, whose output ranges from the lovely and contemplative (SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER… AND SPRING) to the outright shocking (THE ISLE), strikes again with an uncanny and thoroughly creepy nip-yuck nightmare about plastic surgery and identity.
Two years into their relationship, pretty, temperamental and deeply insecure Seh-hee (Ji-yun Park) has begun to suspect that her handsome boyfriend, Ji-woo (Jung-woo Ha), has grown bored with her face and body. She accuses him of looking at other women and reacts violently in public when she thinks he's flirting with a total stranger: Ji-woo's inability to perform consistently in bed only confirms her worst suspicions. Determined to win the futile battle against time and overfamiliarity, Seh-hee walks into Oh & Kim's Aesthetic Clinic a cosmetic-surgery center that asks you to ask yourself, "Do you want a new life?" determined to completely change her appearance. The surgeon (Sung-min Kim) warns that such extensive surgery will take six months to completely heal, then shows her a grisly OR video to test her commitment. Seh-hee remains undaunted. Without telling Ji-woo what she's about to do, Seh-hee quits her job, moves out of her apartment and has her cell phone disconnected. Devastated by this sudden disappearance, Ji-woo slips into a deep depression he really did love Seh-hee, after all and all his attempts to meet other women are mysteriously foiled. When Ji-woo drunkenly checks in to a love hotel with a woman he just met, a brick comes crashing through the window. An evening at a restaurant abruptly ends when his date returns from the ladies' room visibly shaken and running for the hills. Then, six months after Seh-hee's disappearance, Ji-woo notices a pretty new waitress (Hyeon-ah Seong) at the cafe he frequents, and it's obvious she's also taken a similar interest in him. When they meet again on the ferry to the sculpture park Ji-woo and Seh-hee once frequented, they wind up spending the day together. Ji-woo is disconcerted to learn her name is uncomfortably close to that of his missing girlfriend she calls herself See-hee and that she won't let him see any old photographs of herself. Nevertheless, he begins to fall for her until he finds a note on his car windshield from Seh-hee asking Ji-woo to take her back.
At times drily funny, Kim's exploration of image and identity is nevertheless deeply unsettling. Just when Ji-woo and the audience figures out exactly what's going on, the film takes yet another, wholly unexpected turn before ending with a chilling moment that turns everything before it into a vertiginous Mobius strip. While not always entirely logical, the film does manage to work its way deep under the skin while raising some serious questions about appearance and truth that will leave you thinking twice about your next date with a "stranger." leave a comment --Ken Fox