Movie Review: Time Renegades (2015)

Cos there’s nothing much (still) to watch on TV, kooriyuki commanded me to watch a few movies in order to up my posts’ count. ūüėź She recommended Time to me, knowing full well I love thrillers, like Signal. (who doesn’t?)

** Warning: this whole post is gonna be a spoiler. So if you intend to watch Time, turn back now**

Main cast:

  • Jo Jung-seok (from Oh My Ghostess!) as Ji-hwan. A music teacher in the 80s, he teaches in the same high school as his beau, Yoon-jung.
  • Lim Soo-jung as Yoon-jung and So-eun. Yoon-jung teaches Chemistry in the same high school as Ji-hwan in the 80s. She gets brutally murdered one night. In the current timeline (2015), she, as So-eun, is again a teacher. So-eun meets and falls in love with Gun-woo.
  • Lee Jin-wook (from Goodbye, Mr Black) as Gun-woo. A rookie detective. He connects with Ji-hwan through dreams, and helps Ji-hwan prevent further murders from happening post-Yoon-jung’s death.

Synopsis:

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We begin with a New Year countdown — but in 2 different time-space, that interlap with each other. Gun-woo (on the current 2015 timeline) is on the lookout for a drug peddler, while Ji-hwan (in the 1983 timeline) is juz enjoying the countdown with his fianc√©e, Yoon-jung. Yoon-jung’s wallet gets pickpocketed, and Ji-hwan gives chase. Likewise, Gun-woo spots his target, and also gives chase.

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Both men are wounded in their respective confrontation with the thief/ drug peddler. Ji-hwan is stabbed, and Gun-woo is shot. They get sent to hospital…where the start of their connection begins. Gun-woo’s defibrillator¬†fails to work, and the doctor asks for an older model¬†(which coincidentally was once¬†used on¬†reviving Ji-hwan). The men are saved and sent to recuperate in their wards.

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That’s when they start “dreaming” about each other.

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When they wake, they intensely remember “seeing” the world through the other person’s eyes, and are also aware that this dream persona lives in a different time line. Gun-woo experiences Ji-Hwan’s happy memories of sneaking kisses with his fianc√©e in the same high school where they teach. Yoon-jung is a Chemistry teacher, and is constantly pottering about¬†in her lab. Her colleague, a Biology teacher, gets constantly shooed off by her, cos he loves to hang around the lab. Through Ji-hwan’s eyes, Gun-woo also experiences elation when he and Yoon-jung shop around for their new home.

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Ji-hwan dates Yoon-jung for dinner, and happens to catch one of his naughty students, Kang Seung-bum (Lee Min-ho) gambling. Next day, he punishes Seung-bum in school, but being a nice teacher, he also counsels Seung-bum and tells him that he shouldn’t give up on himself.

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Meanwhile, both guys are unnerved yet curious about their relationships. Ji-hwan tries convincing his students and Yoon-jung about the future that he is seeing in his dreams 32 years from now. They pooh-pooh his description of a “smart” phone that is all-purpose, and joke that in order to prove to them that he can¬†“see” the future, he should tell them something more¬†recent. Likewise, Gun-woo tells his sunbae, Detective Lee (Lee Ki-woo), about the weird but vivid dreams he is having — like how it snowed in Sep in 1983 (when it similarly snowed in Sep in 2015), but Detective Lee is dismissive of it.

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Gun-woo’s musings are interrupted with the arrival of their team’s new Leader — Detective Kang (Jung Jin-yong), who is a man of little words. Rumour has it that his wife was killed by a murderer whom Detective Kang was tracking years ago. Detective Kang shot the murderer in the back, but the body couldn’t be found. Since that day, he only has a sole purpose in mind — to confirm the living status of the man who killed his wife.

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By chance, Gun-woo spots a very familiar looking face when he is reviewing some¬†CCTV footages for another crime — it’s Yoon-jung, the girl he dreams about every night. He excitedly tells Detective Lee about it, and goes ahead to…stalk the girl. Bad idea. So-eun (Yoon-jung lookalike) isn’t the demure, genteel Yoon-jung. She notices a suspicious guy trailing behind her and decides to attack him instead. (whoops) As luck would have it, Gun-woo loses his wallet to a pickpocket while busy sneaking up on So-eun, so he gets hauled to the police station where his colleagues have a field day laughing at him.

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But that at least broke the ice (and misunderstanding) between himself and So-eun. He invites her to dinner with his (still guffawing) police colleagues and explains to her the reason why he followed her. So-eun rolls her eyes at his “I-met-you-in-my-dreams” explanation, but nonetheless is intrigued enough to check with her sunbae on the high school which Gun-woo mentioned. Turns out she is teaching in the SAME high school, it is called by a different name now cos the Board of Directors have changed. Spooked, So-eun looks up the Yearbooks in the 80s…and finds her picture.

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Detective Kang also happens to pass Gun-woo a stack of old case files to re-categorise. The case files pertain to a series of unsolved murders starting from the 80s, where the victims (all female) have their throats slit.¬†Gun-woo notices a familiar name listed as one of the victims — Yoon-jung. In fact, she was listed as the first victim in the¬†serial murders.

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The night before Yoon-jung’s death: she is patrolling the school grounds on night duty, when she hears a scream coming from the lab. She investigates and finds a student with a bleeding foot (caused by the glass from a fallen chemical bottle). The student claims to have returned to the lab to pick up a book she left behind, but she also claims to have seen a shadowy figure in the lab that spooked her.

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The death of Yoon-jung¬†is “conveyed” to Ji-hwan, who sees the case files through Gun-woo’s eyes in his dreams. Shocked, he¬†tries to persuade Yoon-jung to stick close to him (without telling her the reason why). She refuses, and pouts that she needs to try out her wedding gown. Still antsy, Ji-hwan flies out of his last class trying to stop Yoon-jung. Unfortunately, the air raid sirens blare, and although he knows (via Gun-woo’s “hindsight”) that it isn’t an air raid by the N. Koreans (turns out to be Chinese soldiers flying back to Mainland), traffic comes to a standstill.

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Ji-hwan rakes through his dream memories, and lands on the name of the¬†accused — an itinerant gambler, Kang Hyeong-chul (Jung Woong-in). He tracks down Hyeong-chul in his usual gambling den, but Hyeong-chul mistakens Ji-hwan as a debt collector and flees. Enroute, he bumps into Yoon-jung, who is returning home from trying out her wedding dress. He notices the stash of cash in her bag which has fallen onto the floor, but chooses instead to continue running to escape Ji-hwan.

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Yoon-jung dusts herself off, and goes to a public toilet to clean up after having being pushed by Hyeong-chul. Ji-hwan by now has reached the vicinity where Yoon-jung met Hyeong-chul, he spots Hyeong-chul exiting from the toilet, clutching Yoon-jung’s bag in his bloody hands. Stricken with fear, Ji-hwan rushes into the toilet to see a very dead Yoon-jung covered in blood. And of cos, Hyeong-chul is arrested for the murder of Yoon-jung. Gun-woo, who has “seen” all these via Ji-hwan’s eyes, relays it to So-eun.

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But it seems that Gun-woo has some reservations over Hyeong-chul’s arrest. In Ji-hwan’s time, Seung-bum (who turns out to be Hyeong-chul’s son) pleads with his teacher that his dad (although a gambler) is not a murderer. Gun-woo, after flipping through the old case files, also notices that the murders don’t stop after the arrest of Hyeong-chul. In fact, Hyeong-chul was stabbed to death in a prison brawl, days before another similar murder took place. Gun-woo also picks up on an incident where the school hall¬†in Ji-hwan’s high school caught fire mysteriously. So-eun, who has joined hands with Gun-woo in the investigation, tells him that the students who died are all from Yoon-jung’s class.

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Convinced that the murderer may still be at large, after seeing his dream visions, Ji-hwan decides to stop him from killing the Yoon-jung’s students. Remembering the date when the hall will catch fire, Ji-hwan arms himself with extinguishers, etc. On the fateful afternoon, when Yoon-jung’s class is busy preparing for an event in the school hall, a guy in a gas mask chains the hall’s doors, and throws in a smoking home-made gas bomb. The noxious gas knocks out some students, and the rest panic. Luckily Ji-hwan manages to smash through the padlocks and rescues all the kids. However, he is unable to catch the murderer.

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Cos of Ji-hwan’s interference, the past/ future changes. The new school hall in the school where So-eun now teaches, reverts back to its original features. Gun-woo enters the school hall, juz as Ji-hwan enters the burnt hall in his timeline. From his memories, Gun-woo sees Ji-hwan hides Yoon-jung’s proposal ring in an antique grandfather clock. He opens the clock, and retrieves the ring.

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In his current timeline, Gun-woo makes the first move to woo So-eun. She coyly accepts his invitation to dinner at his place. However, enroute to his house, So-eun notices a car trailing behind hers. The car suddenly swerves to cut into her path and muttering in anger, So-eun strides up to scold the driver…

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Next morning, Gun-woo receives news that So-eun’s car had been found washed up in a river. Police suspect that she has fallen asleep at the wheel and driven off course. However, the video cam retrieved from the sunken car reveals otherwise. After So-eun stopped her car and approached the errant driver, the car in front started emitting smoke. So-eun fainted, and a man in a gas mask mimicked slitting her throat in front of So-eun car’s cam.

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Gun-woo’s desperation to save So-eun is relayed to Ji-hwan, who believes that the only way to stop another murder from happening is to catch the serial murderer in his timeline. Using the next murder listed in the case file — that of the student who was in the lab at night — Ji-hwan hides himself. The murderer does enter the lab,¬†but Ji-hwan is nearly knocked out by the home made gas bomb. He is unable to save the student…and despite chasing the murderer (who is dressed in the school’s uniform), he loses him. The murderer has cleverly used the distraction of a school event (that of burying a time capsule) to dump the knife used to slit the student’s throat and escape. The gas mask is later “found” on Ji-hwan’s desk in the staff room. So he is hauled in¬†for police questioning.

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Ji-hwan resists the police arrest, and manages to escape on Seung-bum’s bike. He passes a tape recorder which he has been using to detail his investigation to Seung-bum, and urges him (if he fails in his task to capture the murderer) to continue investigating the case in future. He also passes information on Gun-woo and So-eun to Seung-bum, informing him to seek these 2 people’s help if needed.

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With Detective Lee’s help,¬†Gun-woo manages to narrow down the vicinity where So-eun may¬†have been held. He drives through the¬†forested area…while So-eun wakes up from her stupor. The man in the gas mask¬†unties her to feed her, and our plucky heroine turns on her assailant and grabs his mobile phone from him. She escapes and calls Gun-woo urgently. Gun-woo picks up on the unknown caller,¬†and is shocked to hear So-eun’s voice.¬†So-eun informs him she can see a tunnel from where she is running (with masked man in pursuit), and Gun-woo tells her¬†he is heading there. He blares his¬†car horn¬†to help So-eun locate his vehicle.

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So-eun does manage to run on to the highway¬†where the entrance to the tunnel is. She spots Gun-woo’s car, and waves frantically at him. Unfortunately, a Truck harried Gun-woo to drive through the¬†tunnel, and he misses So-eun. When he DOES see her, he¬†U-turns…only to have another car (who is coming in from the other direction) ram into So-eun. She dies in¬†the accident. (talk about the clich√©d¬†kdrama/movie Truck of Doom… THIS is the CLASSIC)

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Devastated, Gun-woo takes some time to realize that the call which So-eun made doesn’t come from her phone. He traces the phone as one of the items which the police prev confiscated…and the last person who checked it out is Detective Kang, his boss. He sneaks into Detective Kang’s home one night, and discovers that he too, is very interested in the slit-throat serial murderer in the 80s — he has an entire room filled with documents on the case. Interestingly, while looking at the documents, a girl in Detective Kang’s photos disappear…

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Cut to Ji-hwan’s time line. A girl, Hyun-joo (also Seung-bum’s girlfriend), accepts a ride from her Biology teacher. He asks her about the masked man, cos apparently Hyun-joo had a brush with him while he was escaping Ji-hwan. Hyun-joo says she can’t remember the face…but she did notice the masked assailant had a bleeding hand (caused by Ji-hwan throwing a shard of glass at him) and she remembered his lifeless eyes. She turns over to see Biology teacher looking at her eerily…and too late…notices a healing cut on his hand.

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Rattled, Gun-woo calls Detective Kang. The latter meets him, and confesses. Detective Kang is Seung-bum. After receiving the recorder from Ji-hwan, who disappeared that night, Detective Kang (Seung-bum) has never given up on catching the murderer. He later married his childhood sweetheart, Hyun-joo.

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12 years ago, when his high school re-opened the time capsule and discovered the blood stained knife, he took the chance to re-open the case. He very nearly tracked the masked murderer down…but the latter was faster. The murderer captured Hyun-joo (his wife), and in exchange for her life, he wanted the bloody knife destroyed. Although Seung-bum complied, Hyun-joo was unable to avoid death. He shot the murderer, and he supposedly fell into the river, but the police were unable to locate his body. When Seung-bum met Gun-woo, he remembered the 2 names which Ji-hwan gave, and¬†he thought that by kidnapping So-eun, it¬†will trigger Gun-woo/ Ji-hwan to help capture the murderer…but was caught off guard by¬†So-eun’s freak accident.

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Heartbroken, Gun-woo screams at¬†Seung-bum and says¬†his meddling has also cost him another girl’s life — that of Hyun-joo. Who had now appeared as a third victim following the girl which Ji-hwan was unable to save. Seung-bum is shocked, and in desperation, he pulls Gun-woo’s gun towards him. He shouts at Gun-woo/ Ji-hwan to kill him, as future Seung-bum will be a kidnapper-murderer, and warns Ji-hwan not to go back to the school alone “that night”…before shooting himself in his head.

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In Ji-hwan’s timeline, he wakes up in cold sweat after “seeing”¬†the future Seung-bum. He sees the student Seung-bum fast asleep, and picks up a pillow…

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Ji-hwan follows Seung-bum’s “advice”, and travels to the school. Biology teacher has kidnapped Hyun-joo in order to draw Ji-hwan there. However, Ji-hwan is now more prepared. He too, has brought along a gas mask, and is unaffected by the noxious fumes from Biology teacher’s gas bombs. The 2 men fight, and Ji-hwan nearly loses…until Seung-bum rushes in to help. (yay, he’s not dead) Ji-hwan manages to throw Biology teacher out of the window, and sees his body land 3 stories down.

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Seung-bum rescues a tied up Hyun-joo, only to have Hyun-joo scream in fright. Seems like Biology teacher is pretty hardcore. After suffering broken cuts and bones from the fall, he returns to the lab, intent on finishing everyone off. Ji-hwan is stabbed by him, but also pays back in kind when he throws a bottle of acid in Biology teacher’s face. The latter screams and runs up to the rooftop, with a bleeding Ji-hwan giving chase.

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On the rooftop, a crazed Biology teacher attacks a weakening Ji-hwan repeatedly. Juz then Ji-hwan notices an electric storm brewing, and remembers (via Gun-woo’s visions) that a severe lightning strike will damage the school’s roof. He manages to drag Biology teacher and handcuff him to the rooftop’s lightning rod (the handcuffs are from earlier when he ran from the police station). A flash of lightning, and both men are struck. Of cos the one who is tied to the lightning rod bears the brunt of the shock.

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Seung-bum and Hyun-joo run up to the rooftop to see a much weakened Ji-hwan gazing at the breaking dawn. He smiles and says softly that he has  managed to change the future, and passes away.

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In the current timeline, Gun-woo wakes up to a new day. He reports back at the station…but strangely, nobody recognizes him. And his new “boss” is now Detective Lee, who also has no idea who Gun-woo is. Amused, Gun-woo pays a visit to So-eun’s school, and is greeted by a very much alive So-eun, and also students, who greet him as “Teacher”. Ack…Gun-woo is now a music teacher in the same high school as So-eun (who teaches Chemistry), and Detective Kang (aka Seung-bum) is the Disciplinary Master — who is at the moment, using the same words as Ji-hwan¬†used on him¬†to scold an errant student.

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After work, the 2 lovebirds decide to do house-shopping. And they happen to pick the same house which Ji-hwan/Yoon-jung were interested in. Gun-woo formally proposes and slips on Yoon-jung’s wedding ring onto So-eun’s finger.

Review:

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Daebak show. If you loved Signal, you will love Time Renegades as well. Maybe even more so, since the latter has a strong romantic element which is lacking in Signal. Of cos, the seasoned actors help in pushing along the narrative. I’m impressed with Lim Soo-jung‘s portrayal of Yoon-jung/ So-eun. While both are the same girl, their mannerisms are completely different. Yoon-jung really belongs to the 80s timeline, where women are more demure, shy, and coquettish. Whereas So-eun is the more brash, confident “modern” woman. And of cos, she gets to romance 2 very good looking guys. (envious)

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Besides the superb acting and narrative, the cinematography is beautiful. The melding of the sepia-toned 80s with the more cool-toned 21st century is done very adroitly. Like the opening Countdown scene, and the scene where Gun-woo/Ji-hwan “meet” in the school hall. There’s no confusion on which time line you are looking at, even if the locale is the same. But the effect of putting these 2 timelines side by side — it’s beautiful.

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My only eye-rolling bit is where So-eun gets hit by the oncoming car. It’s like OMG. This is Murphy’s field day. For all Gun-woo’s strong desire to find So-eun, he somehow becomes a little blind to the So-eun desperately running after his car. And the car that appears out of nowhere to knock down So-eun…so contrived.

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But other than that small, itsy-bitsy complaint, Time Renegades is still a superb watch. Never mind that sometimes, its time-space continuum works a little wonky.

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