The now worldwide obsession with plastic surgery gets a real workout in Kim Ki-duk's Time. In a Seoul coffee shop which is the film's main setting, Se-heui (Park Ji-yeon) goes ballistic when she assumes her boyfriend Ji-woo (Ha Jeong-woo) is checking out another girl. Believing that Ji-woo is tired of her physically, she disappears and makes an appointment for plastic surgery. The confused Ji-woo tries to see other women, unsuccessfully, and then runs into a woman, covered in facial bandages, who intrigues him before retreating. Time passes at the coffee shop, where Ji-woo meets a waitress (Seong Hyeon-ah), whose name is Sae-heui, nearly identical to that of the girlfriend he lost. He begins to receive mysterious love notes signed by Se-heui, and slowly comes to realize the identity of his new romance, as his already strange life becomes even more bizarre.

The film recalls, in its sexual/psychological intensity, some of the '60s works of Ingmar Bergman, with their attendant fascination and, sometimes, heavy-breathing absurdities. Kim comments trenchantly on Korea's passion for nip-and-tuck, where some 50% of young women, as well as many men, have submitted to surgery in the quest for ul-jjang (the perfect face). The behavioral differences between men and women in his film are also a source of wryly observed amusement: The women are ticking time bombs, passionate and full of fire, while the men seem closed-off, needing more than a few drinks to transform into blustery fight-provokers. Those coffee-shop encounters become a running joke--this quiet, kitschy little urban haven somehow drives its clients to the most unseemly displays of public angst. Time is a truly unpredictable film and you watch it transfixed by its singular peregrinations and the fatalistic determination of the monumentally wrong-headed Se-heui.

Ha manages to be very appealing and sexy in his doltish, semi-sad-sack role, but the film really belongs to Park, whose placidly perfect, lovely face conceals a veritable volcano of emotion. The actress Sandra Oh once humorously described to me a traditionally known, particular concept of Korean female rage, which she tapped into for her scenes in Sideways. Park's performance here is as graphic a depiction of that ultimate terror as can be imagined.