The first release from popular Korean actor Shin Hyun Jun’s new production company, “Sin of a Family” is a dark detective mystery revolving around the tragic death of a child and the possible involvement of his family in the crime. Directed by Min Byung Jin (“Out of Justice”), the film premiered at the 2010 Puchon Fantastic Film Festival, and along with Shin Hyun Jun himself in the lead role also stars Lee Ki Woo (“The Classic”) and television player Jeon No Min (“Royal Family”).
Shin plays the shabby detective Cho, a man with more of an eye for the ladies than on his job and whose past dalliances have left him without much chance of promotion in his career. Inadvertently, he lands himself a big case after the body of a murdered young boy is found in the woods, and along with his partner Lee (Lee Ki Woo) he sets about investigating the family, in particular the under pressure father (Jeon No Min). As more details come to light about the family’s unfortunate situation, Cho is forced into some difficult moral decisions, re-evaluating his life and his relationship with his own wayward son in the process.
Despite its grim subject matter, “Sin of a Family” starts off surprisingly funny and fast moving. Whereas most other Korean child murder dramas are relentlessly depressing and moody affairs, for its first hour or so the film has a markedly energetic air, with director Min going for more of a thriller feel, with several chase scenes, flashy editing, and scenes of the two bad tempered cops beating up a variety of suspects. There’s also a fair amount of comedy during these earlier stages, with Cho making for an engaging and amusing protagonist, drinking and flirting too much, and clearly considering himself quite the handsome charmer – resulting in an odd though funny sequence in which the tables are turned after a possibly gay witness takes a shine to him. Min spends a lot of time fleshing out Cho as a character and charting his developing bond with his son, and this is actually one of the film’s strongest aspects, mainly thanks to a likeable performance from Shin Hyun Jun.
The film does become less like a traditional police drama as it goes on, gradually working in flashbacks regarding the dead boy and his life. Min shows himself to be a skilful storyteller, and the film is one of the few which makes good use of such scenes, weaving them well into the present narrative, and employing some effective voice over work to ensure that they never break the flow. The flashbacks build up quite naturally to a long period of exposition in middle of film, at which point it diverges from a traditional investigative format almost entirely and moves into humanistic drama territory.
This actually works well, and Min does a good job of exploring the difficult life of the poor family and the many troubles they faced in trying to raise their children. Through this, and its various other relationships, the film tackles some impressively tough moral questions, and whilst it does get a little melodramatic towards the end it has a powerful sense of social justice that sits well with its increasingly intimate feel. Quite bravely, Min refuses to deliver any easy answers or to shy away from the harshness of reality, adding a further layer of complexity.
As a result, “Sin of a Family” holds the interest both as a mystery and as a very human slice of bleak, though thankfully not needlessly depressing or heavy handed drama. Benefitting from an economic running time of an hour and forty minutes and boosted by the presence of the always agreeable Shin Hyun Jun, it should be enjoyed by anyone looking for a detective film with a little more depth and attention to character and storytelling.
Min Byeong-jin (director) / Min Byeong-jin (screenplay)
CAST: Shin Hyeon-joon … Detective Jo
Wang Hee-ji … Ko Hyeong-sook
Jeon No-min … Jeong In-soo
Lee Ki-woo … Detective Lee
Jo Sang-yeon … Jeong Myeong-hwan
Kim So-hyeon-I … Jeong Myeong-hee