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Family Ties (Kim Tae-Young, 2006)


    Kim Tae-Young’s Family Ties is a muted relationship drama told in three distinct segments. With naturalistic camerawork, a stripped down plot and reasonably unaffected performances, the film hardly begs the audience to love it, but it has a calm sensitivity about it that would be more welcome if only its insights into the ways that obligations weigh upon family members were more probing. The story begins as Mira (Moon So-ri) receives a phone call from her estranged brother Hyung-chul (Eom Tae-woong), informing her that he’s planning to return home to visit. Although she’s initially excited at the prospect of the reunion, when he shows up with an older woman, expecting his sister to put them both up, the gathering gets off on the wrong foot. In this, the best of the movie’s three sections, Kim exploits the inherent tension in the situation to make a larger statement about the tolerance expected when dealing with family members. Moon So-Ri, probably the best young Korean actress working today, is a beguiling presence here, as always, even if her performance pales in comparison to her similar work in Sa-kwa.


    The following two segments similarly, if less successfully, study strained interpersonal interactions. In the second, a restless young woman who wants to leave her family and move abroad is made to confront her demons when her mother falls terminally ill. The third plot deals with the outcome of a young relationship that’s been strained by promiscuity. Although the elements of these plots are trite material to Western audiences, they likely hold greater social significance for South Koreans. The film’s concept, which examines familial bonds as they are pushed toward their breaking point, is inherently dramatic, and the film’s female leads are each a bit more unlikable than might be expected in a drama of this type. Nonetheless, because of the general lack of insight, this is the stuff of soap operas, no matter how handsomely mounted it is. The last twenty minutes, which bring the characters together, are funny and stand in stark contrast to the self-absorbed stories that came before. For the bulk of its runtime, though, Family Ties is not especially involving, although the setup, which entails a tricky time structure and a not-too surprising level of relatedness between the three plot strands, ensures that patient viewers will at least be rewarded with a conclusion that ties the stories together on more than just a thematic level.




Jeremy Heilman