FAMILY TIES (2006)
An emotionally charged triptych, as families and couples clash featuring hot-headed brothers, flighty mothers having affairs, and a young couple struggling with jealousy
It is a common path for Korean directors to have horror debuts before departing to wider appeal genres, such as Yoon Jong-chan (Sorum, 2001), Lee Yong-ju (Possessed, 2009), in this case Kim Tae-yong.
Kim started his career by making the brilliant Memento Mori (1999) – perhaps the best film in the Whispering Corridors horror series. There was an emotional depth to Memento Mori that made it such a profound horror, including featuring a then-contentious schoolgirl same-sex relationship.
What Family Ties provides is a poignant and emotive drama across three separate stories which later tie together. There is deep character development despite the shorter screen time but we are confronted with difficult characters.
Selfishness, pride and jealousy are on display as these families and couples confront each other. But the bond we have with our family is not easily broken, even as difficulties grow.
The first part of the film concerns Mira (Moon So-ri, who delivered that remarkable performance in Lee Chang-dong's Oasis in 2002) who after five years of no contact is visited by her brother. He arrives with a new wife 20 years his senior, but his hot-headed ways soon cause friction in Mira’s world.
In the second part we meet Sun-kyung (Kong Hyo-jin) who argues with her flighty mother who is having an affair with a married man, eventually driving a wedge between the two that seems hard to shift.
The final part is on young couple Gyeong-seok (Bong Tae-gyu) and Chae-hyun (Jung Yu-mi). Despite the close and blossoming relationship, Gyeong-seok's jealousy sparks over the idea that his girlfriend gives her attention too freely to other people.
The trio of stories cover vast ground in the journeys they provide, laying bare the flaws of humans. How we are bags of often unreasonable emotional reactions. How we can be judgemental, overly proud and deeply jealous. But also, despite all this, there are people close enough to us to forgive these flaws.
Family Ties has grown to become an iconic film within Korea. It may not have reached the international audiences that many of the 2000s films did, but its superb range of performances and natural portrayal of family conflict holds it in high local esteem.
The Korean name of the film translates to ‘Birth of a Family’, which perhaps does a better job of demonstrating the film’s themes, certainly better than the slapstick comedy poster which has no connection to the film’s far deeper themes.
Much like dealing with our own families, Family Ties can be a difficult film, with spikey and unlikable characters you have to deal with. But they say families are like branches on a tree – they grow in different directions, yet the roots remain as one. In Family Ties we see those branches growing apart, but there is a realisation that our family connections are never easily severed.