Review: BLOOD AND TIES Loses Direction And Eventually Succumbs To Melodrama
First-time director Gook must've been perfectly aware of the fact that contemporary South Korean cinema is full of more or less effective crime thrillers that exploit real-life murder cases, hence he tried to spice up a conventional formula with an overwrought family-in-shambles scenario, unfortunately to mildly satisfying results. Although initially Blood and Ties sparks a lot of interest with its intriguing and heartrending twist to a familiar premise, it loses direction in the second half and eventually succumbs to melodrama.
Da-eun's (Son Ye-jin) relationship with Soon-man (Kim Kap-soo), her enormously devoted and passionate father, is pretty much perfect until the day she goes to a cinema to see a movie based on an old but still-circulating kidnapping case that's about to turn unresolvable as the statute of limitations on it is about to expire. The fictional film clearly makes an impression on the audience (I personally have never seen so many people cry during a screening), but what shakes Da-eun's life for good is the authentic recording of the killer's voice that plays at the end. It's a rather strange and overly silly misconception that she'd immediately presume the worst and in her mind accuse Soon-man, who - given the manipulative yet decidedly heartfelt flashbacks - comes across as probably the most wonderful paternal figure one can imagine.
Although in the long run she goes about overthinking the unimaginable nightmare over and over again, under a lot of pressure both from the desperate police officers and her shattered conscience she decides to stay strong and formulates opinions that aren't exactly in accord with the emotional indecisions that lead her to a revelatory breakdown. She may doubt her father's morality, but still protects him due to the long-lasting effect of the bond that once made their lives so much happier.
The storyline has been clearly influenced by such films as Memories of Murder (arguably the most spellbinding Korean police procedural) or Voice of a Murderer (a methodically crafted but overlong docudrama of sorts) and I can honestly see why given subject might be meaningful for South Korean audience, but there's too little genuinely interesting material to turn Blood and Ties into a worldwide hit. It could've been a lot more powerful if not for the melodramatic atmosphere that kicks in as soon as Da-eun and Soon-man comprehend the tragedy of the situation that they're bound to deal with. Son Ye-jin turns in a great performance, much more expressive than Kim Kap-soo's, but there's little she can do to save the plot from breaking up.
Character study is too perfunctory to give the low-down of the actual motivation behind the actions of the father and his connections to a mysterious man who appears somewhere in the middle and wreaks havoc. The well-organized and easy-to-follow plot gives too much attention to Da-eun and her anxieties at the expense of other, comparatively crucial aspects - like police procedures or the background of the story - that in consequence feel somewhat underdeveloped. Thus, the abrupt ending doesn't really convey the emotional impetus of the last-minute revelation and its shocking aftermath. Ironically, one of the most burning questions of the film gets its answer seconds before the credits start to roll, and a high-colored one at that.
Everyone who's watched at least one crime thriller, no matter whether Korean or not, won't be surprised by the outcome of the whole ordeal. It's a mystery that doesn't leave much place for surprises, and it tries to make up for that with a serious and provoking study of a human identity instead. Blood and Ties makes a strong point about how easy it is to fall into a trap of false impressions, especially about the ones we trust the most. It's as if Da-eun is still looking at a reflection of the man she once admired with her whole heart, and because of that forceful idolization she loses her sense of judgment.
Technical credits are dazzling, but they don't stand out from the crowd among other impressively good-looking Korean pictures (thrillers and otherwise) of the last few years. As any other self-respecting genre film Blood and Ties is adequately dark, but it isn't able to maintain the tone due aforementioned plot-related problems. Gook Dog-seok might need to try harder with his sophomore feature if he really wants to make it in such a competitive environment.