I discussed the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA), or more precisely their graduation feature projects, for my recent piece on When Winter Screams, a film I enjoyed with some reservations. Now it's time to take a look at the other major 2012 KAFA production. Your Time Is Up has had a more successful festival run so far, largely because it was programmed alongside Lee Don-ku's excellent Fatal during last October's Busan International Film Festival in the New Currents section. Due to the exposure afforded by that selection, this KAFA project found itself competing with Jang Kun-jae's Sleepless Night and about a dozen other films during this month's Fribourg International Film Festival.
A young man lives with his older working brother. He borrows a tidy sum from him one day, purportedly to pay for some tuitions fees, but it ends up in the hands of the beautiful hostess of a secretive bar whom he's become infatuated with. It doesn't take him long to become entangled with her abusive boyfriend and when both of their bodies are found in the man's car one day, his older brother visits the bar to uncover the truth of what happened to his younger sibling.
Like other KAFA films, Your Time Is Up benefits from an impressive level of mise-en-scene, particularly given the youth of the crew members involved (though they likely received some help from more experienced hands). In fact, it seems that with each passing year, the KAFA graduation projects see their production values progress in tandem. 2010's Bleak Night and End of Animal were both earthy, grainy pictures that favored close-ups of their characters. When Winter Screams and Your Time Is Up, however, opt for primary colors, careful set design and a broader shot selection encompassing a number of mid and long shots as well as close-ups. There's no doubting the school's continued commitment to professionalism.
The only issue with this is that whereas the 2010 films were thoroughly original works that sported their young cineaste's distinctive stamps, this new batch of films is not as fresh and exciting. They are less gripping, perhaps because of their rigid formalism. I was impressed enough with When Winter Screams for its mix of mystery and intrigue but I'm afraid I can't extend the same courtesy to Your Time Is Up, a project that seems content to revel in violence and a polished aesthetic in lieu of anything resembling a captivating storyline or interesting characters. For a student film this isn't a serious offence and could be forgiven but as noted before, KAFA films have risen the bar for student productions which does mean I'm a little disappointed by this latest offering. As an exercise in style and film expression it is mostly a successful one but it just feels a little hollow. This is not the kind of feature that can coast by on aesthetics alone.
At this point I'm looking forward to whatever feature films the Korean Academy of Film Arts puts out during a given year but I hope they do better than something that is merely OK; they've certainly proven they are capable of it in the past. Harsh though it may seem, it could just be that unlike some of the earlier KAFA films, the director being given his shot, here Kim Sung-hyeon, doesn't quite have what it takes to make it in the big league. Your Time Is Up is a solid student feature but unlike some of the best KAFA films, it's not one I'm ready to recommend alongside more experienced filmmakers' work.