In the final act of Ditto, Ha Jiwon's character, Hyunji, says, "This would be an interesting science fiction melodrama, but I don't believe it." This is akin to how I feel about Ditto, which I didn't like upon first viewing, but decided I'd give another chance to. Watching it, I think I've softened a bit towards it because there really is an interesting underlying story, science fiction aspects included, but the heavy-handed direction, the wandering pacing, and overly sentimental and inconclusive finale cause the film to stumble, especially in the third act, working counter to the interesting period details and both dramatic and science fiction possibilities that the plot opens up.
In Ditto, Soeun (Kim Haneul) is a college junior, class of 1979, who harbors an enormous crush on her recently returning from mandatory military service senior, Donghee (Park Yongwoo). Caught spying on Donghee from inside the amateur radio club, she takes a broken radio, pretending to be a hobbyist and soon discovers a voice trying to communicate with her. This voice belongs to In (Yoo Jitae), college sophomore, class of 1999. While neither believe each other at first, they manage to develop a rapport, but information about the future and digging up the past proves to have surprising results for both.
Now, there's a great setup here, even if you limit it to the story of romance between Soeun and Donghee, in which Soeun's best friend, Sunmi (Lee Seungmin) acts as a level-headed contrast, but there are some great subtle tensions built into that triangle. The science fiction/fantasy aspect introduced by In in the future and the conflict that's introduced by the connections and possibilities opened up by the channel of communication between the time periods are also interesting. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really bother to mine the depths of any of those drama-rich areas in the third acts and spins into a sentimental melodrama, pouring on the self-pity and angst, but not at all addressing the inherent conflicts, resulting in a very passive and, ultimately, unconvincing affair. Furthermore, In's own story, involving his sparring relationship with his admirer, Hyunji, is highly undeveloped and the events of the film don't really have any meaningful impact on that second story. All this makes Ditto feel like a story with so much potential that's mostly squandered in the final act.
This sappy final act is compounded by the sometimes heavy-handed direction from Kim Jungkwon. While Kim shows himself pretty adept at the more low-key scenes, once the sentimentality amps up in the final act, the film just becomes silly with the slow motion, flashbacks and color play, all of which try to heighten scenes without any real stakes. The performances are rather simple, reasonably so, given the naivete of Soeun, although I do feel like she was played just a little too cute for a college student, an element that's echoed by her contemporary counterpart, Hyunji, who's spunk-meets-cute mix isn't entirely believable either, although that might be a problem with the writing, over Ha Jiwon's performance. Oh, the score is also so overbearing that I could barely tolerate it.
With so much potential in the setup, that the film simply is unable to use its richness in the different time periods, character drama, or even use its twist effectively is quite disappointing. That said, before the film falls apart in the third act, it's still quite nice and the concept is still rather strong, enough to drive a viewer through most of the film. But, being unable to really solidify a good story around its high concept, I feel that Ditto is a missed opportunity, made a bit harder to bear by the overbearing direction and score, especially in the third act. There's still enough interesting about Ditto that some might get some enjoyment out of it, but I can't give it much of a recommendation. 6/10.
DVD Note: The Mei Ah edition of the DVD from Hong Kong features a horrendous 4:3 letterboxed presentation, resulting in an obnoxious quarterbox for anyone watching it on a 16:9 screen. The film's transfer is also noticeably weak, with apparent aliasing, smudgy color and contrast. If you want to see this film, I'd recommend hunting down a different distribution.