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Kidnapping and child murder dramas have been extremely popular in Korean cinema over the last few years, particularly those inspired by real life unsolved cases. Writer/director Guk Dong Suk tries to spice up the usual formula somewhat with “Blood and Ties”, a high concept thriller which revolves around the moral conundrum of a young woman finding out that her father might well be a monstrous criminal with a sinister secret. With actress Son Ye Jin (“Spellbound”) and veteran Kim Kap Soo (“The Last Blossom”) in the lead daughter and father roles, the film went down well with local audiences, topping the box office on its release.
Son Ye Jin plays grad student reporter Da Eun, who lives with her father and only living family member Son Man (Kim Kap Soo), a decent fellow who makes an honest living through manual labour. One day while watching a film at the cinema about a famous real life child murder case with her beau Jae Kyoung (Lee Kyu Han, “My Lovely Sam Soon”) and best friend Bo Ra (Jo An, “Wishing Stairs”), she hears the actual voice of the never-caught criminal over the end credits, and immediately recognises it as that of her father. Thrown into turmoil, not least due to the fact that the statute of limitations on the case is due to expire in just a few days, she starts investigating, spurred on by the sudden appearance of a mystery man (Lim Hyung Joon, “I am the King”), who claims to have knowledge of shady secrets from the past.
Although apparently based on a series of actual unsolved crimes, “Blood and Ties” was clearly equally, if not more inspired by other recent films, in particular the likes of “Voice of a Murderer” and “Confession of Murder”, with the shadow of Bong Joon Ho’s still reigning genre champ “Memories of Murder” looming large. Certainty, all Guk Dong Suk has really done here is to take a series of familiar motifs and thrown them into the mix, wrapping things up with the driving twist of the possible villain being the father of the protagonist. Though the general lack of originality does make the film feel somewhat familiar, Guk does a very solid job of combining the film’s various elements and of keeping things moving at fun and occasionally exciting pace.
The central premise works well, and while the film is surprisingly not as dark as might have been expected, there’s more than enough moral wrangling here to hold the interest, with some fun scenes and tense build-ups. Guk gets a lot of mileage out of Hitchcock style character reversals and amusingly manipulative revelations, and this gives the film a strangely playful feel that helps sustain it throughout the pleasantly short hour and a half running time. While most viewers will likely see the final resolution coming, it’s an enjoyable ride, with a good amount of schlocky suspense.
It’s a character driven film, and though the writing isn’t particularly deep, De Eun and Son Man make for a couple of interesting central figures, their shifting bond having a reasonable level of emotional involvement, at least enough to ensure a few satisfying shock beats. There’s plenty of overwrought family drama on offer, some of it verging on the hysterical, and whilst this might undermine the overall believability of the film or any serious meditations on conscience and loyalty, it also makes it a lot more fun than the usual teary melodrama. Both Son Ye Jin and Kim Kap Soo are effective and good value in their roles, Kim in particular seeming to be having fun, frequently chewing the scenery and alternating between looking hurt and reproachful and leeringly creepy.
While not substantial, “Blood and Ties” has plenty to recommend it to fans of Korean crime dramas, and its fast pace and lack of needless melodrama or complex dreary subplots makes it far more of an entertaining thrill ride than many of its similarly themed peers. It’s a fine debut for Guk Dong Suk both as writer and director, who’s certainly worth watching out for next time around.
Dong-Suk Kuk (director) / Dong-Suk Kuk (screenplay)
CAST: Ye-jin Son … Da-eun
Kap-soo Kim … Soon-man
Kyu-han Lee … Jae-kyung