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Film sees love, not blood ties, key for family

2006/05/22 Source

It's interesting to compare how Korean and English dictionaries define the word "family". While the former defines "family" as a group of people related to each other through marriage, in the latter (there can be exceptions, mind you) the "marriage" part is gone.

Though not widely accepted as "proper" yet, more and more people form families without marriage in this country as well. Maybe the time is not far off when Korean dictionaries will revise the definition.

What is it, then, that turns a group of people into a family, if not by marriage or blood relations? It is the kind of question the new film "Family Ties" ("The Birth of a Family") asks its audience, to which it also gives its own answer.

The film features three key couples. It starts as a compilation of three unrelated families, but later they turn out to be within the same frame. They include Hyung Cheol (Uhm Tae-woong) who comes to live in his sister's (Moon So-ri) house with his lover Moo-shin (Ko Doo-shim), who is 20 years older than him, and the daughter of her ex-husband's ex-wife. Not a single character from the film appears to be ordinary, nor are the relationships among them.

For Kyong Seok (Bong Tae-gyu) and Chae-hyun (Jung Yu-mi), another couple in the film, his lack of affection clashes with her overly affectionate attitude. Mae-ja (Kim Hye-ok), an ailing middle-aged widow, falls in love with a married man with two children, which turns off her sensitive daughter Seon-kyong (Gong Hyo-jin).

Kim Tae-yong, the film's director who is best known for "Memento Mori" (2001), the second installment of a high-school horror film series he co-directed, doesn't see such combinations as things to overcome. This makes it different from most of other Korean, and even Hollywood family films, whose common theme is recovery of traditional family values.

Until the end, the couples' conflicts never escalate to a catastrophe. Instead, they develop understandings based on affection, which make them accept each other as they are. Such love and understanding, judging from the film, is the key ingredient that makes a group of people a family, which sounds plausible thanks mainly to brilliant acting by the cast.

The film, though, largely ignores how painful and traumatic it can be to grow up in such a dysfunctional family. The story and characterization of the film contains lots of narrative truth but little realism.

In one scene, Seon-kyong makes an unplanned visit to the home of her mom's lover when the family is dining together. There she asks him if he loves her mother, with a clear intention of revealing his hidden love to the rest of his family, including his wife.

Breaking the awkward silence, he replies "Yes. I truly love her", which throws her into panic. The film doesn't take pains to show what happened to the hapless wife and children after that.

Veteran actress Ko and Moon, though their roles are comparatively minor, demonstrate why they are such highly sought after figures in local films. Bong and Jung are also a pleasure to watch, as the young, promising film stars provide solid acting in the movie.

A piece of trivia on the film: Ryoo Seung-bum who has a cameo role in the film as Seon-kyong's ex-boyfriend is an ex-boy friend of Gong in real life too. Can this mean the two stars are back together as a couple? They deny this, but who knows what's really going on in the entertainment world.

By Lee Yong-sung

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