Bearing a superficial resemblance to Venice prizewinner “Pieta,” but actually more in sync with classic neorealism, South Korean family drama “Juvenile Offender” centers on 16-year-old Ji-gu (Seo Young-ju), who meets the mother who abandoned him for the first time as he exits a correctional facility for underage law-breakers. Simultaneously bleak and humanistic, writer-director Kang Yikwan’s intimate look at a national problem reveals the myriad ways bad decisions trickle down through generations, while offering a slim ray of hope for a clan awkwardly attempting to make amends. Though admirable, the emotionally restrained approach seems better suited to fests than to commercial play.
“Can you forgive me just this once?” asks Ji-gu every time he faces a system whose harsh punishments serve more to derail than reform delinquent kids. Upon exiting, he learns his teenage g.f. (Jun Yejin) had not only been pregnant, but had to give away the baby — a discovery that suggests their bad luck will carry on if the clan can’t pull together. Using authentic locations and a poignant arm’s-length style, helmer Kang steers clear of either sensationalism or the sentimentality of a made-for-TV treatment.