"Always remember what I taught you, 'It ain't over till it's over'..."
Da-eun (Son Ye-jin) is a 26-year-old woman who has a deeply close and loving relationship with her mild-mannered, doting father Soon-man (Kim Kap-soo). Happy to openly admit that she trusts her father implicitly and loves him unconditionally, Da-eun is unsettled, to say the least, on watching a film with friends about the abduction and murder of a young boy almost 15 years ago; a case on which the Statute of Limitations is soon to expire. For, within the film is a recording of the murderer demanding money for the safe return of the child and try as she might Da-eun cannot ignore the similarities to her own dear father's voice.
Not only that, but when the criminal is heard to say Soon-man's favourite phrase - "It ain't over till it's over" - Da-eun is brought face-to-face with the shocking possibility that not only may her gentle, loving dad in fact be a vicious child killer but also that, if he is, he may well have used her as an unwitting accomplice, in the process.
Torn between her heart telling her that her father could never perpetrate such a heinous crime and her head being presented with increasingly damning evidence to the contrary, Da-eun undertakes to uncover the truth once and for all; knowing that if she finds Soon-man really is guilty she will have to make a choice between family ties and justice...
Over the years, tales of abduction, murder and serial killings have been abundant in Korean cinema; an increasing number detailing police efforts to bring a killer to justice before the 15-year Statute of Limitations expires. Some - such as 2009's 'White Night' (also starring the inimitable Son Ye-jin) - have succeeded in being utterly gripping, multilayered tours de force of cinema while others - 'Confession of Murder' (2012), for example - have been somewhat less well realised, but regardless of which of these descriptions fits a particular film each has largely strived to focus on a different aspect of a well trodden narrative path in an attempt to allow it to stand out from the crowd.
And so it is with 'Blood and Ties'; a story which attempts to question whether blood is truly thicker than water, within a dissection of family (a subject also deeply prevalent in Korean cinema); asking if a person with a keen moral compass would ultimately choose perceived familial bonds or justice as more important, not only on suspecting a loved one of carrying out a brutal and altogether inhumane act but also on fearing they themselves were unwittingly made a culpable accomplice to the heinous crime.
'Blood and Ties' opens with a short 'home movie' segment showing Da-eun as a child playing with her as always doting father, subsequently cutting to her (present-day) lying unconscious in a bed; her face full-screen clearly both cut and bruised. As she slowly regains consciousness, Da-eun's mind flashes back to scenes from her youth - her dad frantically searching for her in the rain; telling her to never take anything from strangers; testing her writing skills by dictating directions to a trash can near a bakery; and having her repeat his favourite phrase 'It ain't over till it's over - and on finally opening her eyes the narrative steps back in time to begin its story in earnest, detailing the events leading to her being in the (as we later discover, hospital) bed.
These narrative lead-ins successfully serve to underline the close, loving and trusting relationship between Da-eun and Soon-man that is further focused on in early scenes introducing us to the main characters in depth and though it could be said that the aforementioned teaching of Da-eun to write such obviously specific directions perhaps gives a little too much of future proceedings away, I nonetheless have no major criticism of it, in that respect. However, what it does also inadvertently do is foreshadow a predictability that rather plagues 'Blood and Ties' throughout and though director Gook Dong-seok makes numerous efforts to add surprise to the mix more often than not he succeeds in only 'closing the door after the horse has bolted', to coin a phrase.
Not only that, but as the narrative proceeds and the tension mounts sadly so do the plot holes and while some are passing and could (almost) be let fly others are so blatant as to pull certainly this reviewer, at least, out of story immersion; undermining both story and character believability, in the process. Just one example of these many plot issues and narrative 'head-scratchers', if you will, can be found at around the halfway point of the film in a conversation between Da-eun and the father of the murdered child:
Assuming Da-eun is a reporter, he hands her a note written by a child connected to the killer (and sent by the criminal) containing directions to where the ransom money would have to be left to ensure the young abducted boy's safe return, telling Da-eun to make sure it's published in the media... With such an obviously pivotal piece of evidence, why is it still in the father's possession? Wouldn't he have given it to the police who are utterly desperate for any clues to the killer's identity? Even if he had given this vital note to police at the time of the crime, would they really have given it back? And if they had returned it to him for some inexplicable reason, with so much media and public interest in the case currently as well as the Statute of Limitations clock ticking away, wouldn't it be rather advisable for them to have it now? And wouldn't the father realise that?
For those of you who think I'm being overly picky (and feel free to do so, if you wish) all I'll say is that the plot inconsistencies and annoyances are such, and frankly so frequent, that as far as I'm concerned anyone would tend towards being less forgiving than might otherwise be the case. Ok, so in this example Da-eun seeing the note is pivotal to her questioning whether she actually wrote it as a child - if she did, making her an accomplice to the crime - but surely that could have been achieved another more believable way... surely.
The question of whether Soon-man is ultimately innocent or guilty is essentially answered long before the film's conclusion but Gook Dong-seok nonetheless keeps throwing in 'is he or isn't he' moments right up to the very second the Statute of Limitations expires and again though his reason for doing so is understandable - Da-eun battling between her moral conscience and her loyalty to perceived familial bonds - the opportunity for any insightful dissection is largely wasted. Instead, we have Da-eun boomeranging from "You're my father; even if you're guilty I can't report you" to "You did it, didn't you? I'm going to the police" and back again, more than once. To my mind this is an utter, utter shame when just a little more care, thought and attention could have produced a far more original take on a familiar formula.
The ultimate destination of the narrative (both in terms of Da-eun's family as a whole and her father in particular) will likely be figured out in advance to those paying attention during (again) the conversation between her and the murdered boy's father but the ongoing inclusion of character Shim (whose story does relate to both aspects) does tend to be more forced than it should: When he's unwelcome, he turns up like a bad penny, violent and demanding money, but when Da-eun tries to approach him he absconds at speed on a motorbike; his constant threats to reveal 'everything' to Da-eun when he's so obtuse it's obvious he never will serving only to feel like Gook Dong-seok is deliberately withholding information from Da-eun and viewers alike simply to allow an expositional reveal in the film's final stages. And frankly, that's exactly what he's doing.
So, is there any real reason for watching 'Blood and Ties'? Well, yes, and that reason is Son Ye-jin and Kim Kap-soo. In spite of the numerous criticisms above, 'Blood and Ties' is a watchable if flawed film but having such talented and popular A-list stars in the two main roles is by far the greatest pull of the movie. It almost goes without saying their exemplary performances - and indeed chemistry - give 'Blood and Ties' every ounce of believability it has.
Cast (character... actor):
Da-eun... Son Ye-jin
Soon-man... Kim Kap-soo
Joon-yeong... Lim Hyeong-joon
Da-eun (as a child)... Park Sa-rang
While 'Blood and Ties' tries to be an original take on a familiar narrative subject in its attempted dissection of familial ties, any chance of insightful commentary is marred by plot holes and predictably throughout. Ultimately, the appearance and performances of Son Ye-jin and Kim Kap-soo are by far the strongest aspects of the film.