Turning nearly every scene into a blood-soaked melee, “Your Time is Up” is a concussive viewing experience. A crazed yarn about a fraternal fracas catalyzed by a femme fatale, this bludgeoning exercise in machismo and misogyny will have its champions, who’ll hail it as an unflinching reflection of the violence inherent to South Korean society. But such films are a dime a dozen in the country’s rich repertoire, and while festival and quasi-arthouse ancillary markets will lap it up, one hopes first-time helmer Kim Sung-hyun’s notable talent can be applied to more thematically satisfying projects in future.
Water-purifier salesman Seok-ho (Choi Won-young) grudgingly lends $5,000 to his brother Jin-ho (Kang Ho) so he can enroll in grad school. But when Seok-ho catches the ne’er-do-well having a sexual rendezvous during study hours, he demands his money back within a week. Jin-ho, who’s squandered his windfall on snack-bar hostess Hee-young (Kim E-jung), starts stalking her for a refund, but becomes incensed with jealousy when he spots her lover, Min-kyu (Kim Won-sik), driving her car. A confrontation ensues, with violent results.
An inflated plot develops as Seok-ho, Hee-young and Min-kyu’s gangster brother, Tae-kyu (Shin Hyun-tak), keep having coincidental encounters at a morgue, a funeral parlor, Hee-young’s home and, most incessantly, her bar, as if it were the only watering hole in Seoul. While Tae-kyu and his boss harass Hee-young to pay up a loan of $15,000, Seok-ho’s sexual overtures toward Hee-young become more aggressive.
All male characters, regardless of their dramatic significance, behave as if they’ve swallowed barrels of gunpowder. Seok-ho’s increasingly psychotic belligerence reads as guilt over his tough love toward Jin-ho, while Tae-kyu’s bloodlust can be attributed to a thirst for revenge. But it’s harder to explain why a police detective also abruptly joins the fray, except as another excuse for more rounds of fist fighting and furniture smashing. The action reaches a ridiculous nadir when Hee-young calls Seok-ho “a crazy loser.” Seok-ho retorts: “Alright, I’ll show you crazy.” He does.
The pic’s treatment of loan sharks is superficially similar to that of Korean indie “Choked,” which, like “Your Time Is Up,” is helmed by a Korean Academy of Film Arts (Kafa) graduate and was selected for the Busan Film Festival’s New Currents competition. The comparisons end there, however, as this film merely treats debt as a plot device without investing it with additional layers of meaning.
Kim E-jung has neither the looks nor the sex appeal to sell the idea that men would drain their resources or risk their lives for her, and she tends to substitute the same fed-up frown for a whole range of reactions she’s supposed to have. The male protags convey their brutishness with mechanical efficiency.
In stark contrast with the protags’ muddled motives and behavior, Kim’s technical execution, from immaculately composed and lit cinematography to tightly controlled editing and action choreography, is impressive for an up-and-comer.