By Pierce Conran
Popular webtoonist Kang Full has become a big name in Korean film over the last few years following the success of features based on his work, such as BA:BO (2008), Late Blossom (2011), Neighbors (2012), and 26 Years (2012). At this year's Busan International Film Festival, Kang's work gets the animated treatment for the very first time with Timing, a film firmly planted in the supernatural and brimming with ideas but undercut by sketchy execution.
In a high school plagued by a rash of suicides, a clairvoyant teacher has dreams of an impending catastrophe, and in a bid to stop students from taking their lives, she teams up with other people around the school with special abilities. One is a girl who can see 10 minutes into the future, another boy can stop time, and a man has the ability to go back 10 seconds into the past. Also entering into this supernatural microcosm is a gruff local detective, who harbors a special secret of his own.
Though initially intriguing, with its cocktail of investigative thriller and supernatural elements, the plot becomes ungainly before long, as it continues to pile on outlandish scenarios. Burdened by the weight of its many supernatural characters and incongruous story elements, which range from shamanism and high school suicides to zombies and more, Timing has trouble getting its narrative into focus.
In addition to being hard to follow, the film is oddly flat in its construction, considering its many genre elements. The drawing is generally simplistic, save for a couple of well-staged sequences, and most conversations feature characters in awkward poses, unmoving, save for the prattle of lips and the odd tilt of the head. Director Min Kyung-jo has a lot of experience with TV films and series and the rushed technique that TV schedules require seems to have followed him to this feature film outing.
The film's best moments are found in its less encumbered first half, including a flashback of the man with time-traveling powers to the day he lost his wife and child, as they were blown out of the side of a building after an explosion. On the street below, he tries to use his power to run up and catch them, yet the 10 second window of his ability isn't enough to make the distance, so he ends up seeing his family hit the ground right before his eyes again and again.
As Timing enters its second half the cracks really start to show. Things happen on screen with little rhyme or reason and, in a bid to explain itself, we are dragged into a lengthy flashback of a character that seemed only tenuously connected to the plot and barely appeared on screen up until that point. It reaches its breaking point in the climax, when everything really does fall apart. A misguided and bizarrely twee coda attempts to rope all the disparate threads back together but it only manages to make things worse.
Korean animation has been making small waves recently, by dint of the success of Yeon Sangho's (The King of Pigs, 2011; The Fake) output or this year's The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow but, half-baked in its themes and style and weakly derivative of Japanese animation, it invites unflattering comparisons to the far more sophisticated industry of Korea's eastern neighbor.
Beginning as a convoluted but engaging supernatural mind trip, Timing soon falls prey to a busy narrative populated by a host of puzzling plot turns. As it becomes obfuscated by an unclear narrative and unknowable characters, what is clear is that this isn't the film that's going to put Korean animation on the map.
This review originally appeared on Twitchfilm.com
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