Blood isn’t necessarily thicker than water in “Family Ties,” a cleverly constructed dramedy centered on an extended, dysfunctional brood. Pic is blessed with a fine cast, a sharp eye for social manners (or lack of them) and a three-part structure which teases the viewer until the final moments. This first solo feature by helmer Kim Tae-yong, co-director of the very different supernatural drama “Memento Mori” (2000), deserves consideration by fest selectors looking for intelligent, accessible fare.
On local release in mid-May, film garnered positive local reviews but was completely miss-sold as a goofy/happy family comedy. (Same ad campaign was used for its Cannes market screenings.) Pic tanked, with less than 200,000 admissions in three weeks, despite a fine cast led by actress Mun So-ri (“Oasis,” “A Good Lawyer’s Wife”).
In its roughly 35-minute long sections, film first intros Mi-ra (Mun), owner of a small eatery, who’s visited out of the blue by her ex-jailbird brother, Hyeong-cheol (Eom Tae-woong), and his new wife, the much older and very maternal Mu-shin (Go Du-shim). Unenthusiastically letting them stay over, Mi-ra has her patience tested when the emotionally unstable Hyeong-cheol starts verbally abusing her fiance at dinner.
Mixture of low-key humor and moments of social unease continues when Mu-shin’s young step-daughter by her ex-husband also turns up, and Mi-ra is expected to take her in, too. Then, one day, Hyeong-cheol disappears as suddenly as he arrived.
Second seg centers on Seon-gyeong (Gong Hyo-jin), who’s clearly upset when her former b.f., Jun-ho (Ryu Seung-beom), turns up with his new g.f., who’s an old school chum of hers. Unhappy and planning to move abroad, Seon-gyeong later visits her mom, Mae-ja (Kim Hye-ok), owner of a failing clothing store, and ends up insulting the latter’s latest lover, a married man. Turns out Seon-gyeong also has a kid half-brother, Gyeong-seok (Bong Tae-gyu), who lives with her mom.
The various threads connecting all these characters, as well as the exact time lapse between the first two segs, becomes clear in the third section, which takes place several years later. As the pieces fall into place between the members of the extended family, script pulls a surreal, typically Korean twist, followed by a coda that intros a missing member of the dysfunctional group.
Film’s visual style — largely handheld, though not distractingly — is all in the service of the actors and perfs. Go is aces as the older woman with a history and blends well with the more reined-in Mun as the lonely Mi-ra. Ensemble between the rest of the cast, even including the well-known Ryu (“Crying Fist”), is tops.