Family Ties

This quiet intelligent film explores what it means to be family by following three sets of characters in seemingly separate stories. Sometimes family is what you make it and sometimes family is what you are stuck with – but in either case the film pays homage of a sort to just how integral the family unit remains in our modern life and how unbreakable its bonds can be. Director Kim Tae-yong (co-director of Momento Mori) shoots the film at an unhurried pace with a delicate touch and a fine aesthetic eye for color and light that is a pleasure to indulge in. The film is also well supported by some fine acting from some of Korea’s better actors. Films of this nature tend to be ignored more often than not both at home and abroad because there is no strong angle to market the film – no big stars, a low budget, no over the top plot – just good writing with a story and characters that gently seep into your pores. The film was apparently marketed as a crazy family comedy – as the DVD cover would indicate – but don’t believe it – this is simply good smart drama.

In the first story, Mira (the great Moon So-ri) lives by herself and runs a small restaurant. Her ne’er-do-well younger brother Hyeong-cheol shows up after five years of being away without a word. He brings his older not very attractive wife, Mu-shin (Go Du-shim), with him and the two of them basically move in with Mira with no sign that they plan to leave any time soon. Then one day a young girl shows up claiming to be Mu-shin’s daughter and soon afterwards Hyeong-cheol goes out to buy something and never returns.

In the next segment, Seon-gyeong (Gong Hyo-jin) appears to be angry at the world – at her ex-boyfriend (Ryu Seung-beom) and in particular with her mother (Kim Hye-ok) who she thinks of as an irresponsible tramp who ends up in relationships with bad men and who has a young son on her hands. The mother is also possibly dying but even this doesn’t assuage the anger of Seon-gyeong. She wants to go abroad to get away from this life but the bonds of family are hard to untangle. There are some transcendent moments in this section that go straight to your gut and Gong Hyo-jin is a wonder to watch.

Finally, in the third section two young adults - Kyung Suk (Tae-gyu Bong ) and Chae Hyun (the captivatingly elfish Jeong Yoo-mi) – are going through the difficult throes of courtship – jealousy, anger, possessiveness and love all come into play in a series of break ups and make ups. It seems little can be done to bring these two together for good and then the film suddenly and surprisingly brings all the three threads together in a manner that was so simple and yet so profoundly humanistic that it emotionally shook me to the core like the ending of Kieslowski's Red always does. A perfect final ten minutes takes this film to another level.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Reviewed: 04/07