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Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Kim Tae-yong is June’s featured director at the KCC

Two contrasting films from June’s featured director, Kim Tae-yong. The first screening, Family Ties, is preceded by at talk by Mark Morris. As always, registration is required via [email protected].

Family Ties (가족의 탄생, 2006)

11 June, 7pm
Director: Kim Tae-yong
Cast: Moon So-ri, Ko Doo-sim, Uhm Tae-woong, Kong Hyo-jin, Bong Tae-gyu
113 mins / cert 15

Family Ties

The film Family Ties is an ensemble story of three seemingly unconnected episodes. It begins with Mi-ra, who runs a small restaurant and has a troublesome brother, Hyung-chul. After being discharged from the military he goes missing only to turn up five years later accompanied by a middle-aged woman, Mu-sin. He gives a bunch of flowers to Mi-ra and introduces Mu-sin as his wife, even though they have not had a wedding ceremony. From that moment, an eccentric family is born. As the literal translation of the original Korean title ‘Birth of a Family’ indicates, each ‘family’ is born out of seemingly random or even impulsive acts rather than being blood-related.

Kim Tae-yong’s Family Ties (2006): Families Less Ordinary

Mark Morris

In 2014 the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) up-dated its list of the hundred most significant films made in South Korean since the 1930s.  Family Ties (more literally, Kajok ui tansaeng: ‘Birth of a/the family’) was one of the newer films to make it onto this definitive selection. Its inclusion is mainly due, no doubt, to its offbeat humanity, clever plotting and some very fine acting. But it was also topical: the film appeared at a time when a social discourse concerning ‘alternative families’ was gaining ground.

Already, in the wake of the loss of work and dignity, and other dislocations caused by the IMF financial crisis of 1997, the very existence of stable nuclear families – to say nothing of the old patriarchal multi-generation families —  was being eroded. South Korea had cast behind it the age of the authoritarian, developmental state and embraced free-market ideology; it would begin to be reshaped more directly by the global economy and an at times predatory state-chaebol alliance. The corrosive effects of unemployment had already been recast as cinematic melodrama by Besa Me Mucho (1997), or in the more tragic mode of Lee Chang-dong’s Peppermint Candy (2000). In the former, when her husband loses his job, a loving wife and mother is forced to give herself to an old school ‘friend’; in the latter, the collapse of a small business sends a man careening through his final days on an impossible quest for his lost youth and then to a dramatic suicide. In a lighter vein, Kim Ji-woon high-jacked the basic story of a grotesque film by Miike Taksashi for The Quiet Family (1998). Left with no resources but possession of their isolated countryside inn, a family of odd characters finds their own free-market solution in a series of bleakly funny murders.

A few years before Kim Tae-yong’s fine film, Im Sang-su had explored the numbing weight of an ostensibly modern, successful but unloving family in the stylish The Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003). (It stars the glorious Moon So-ri, in a role far removed from her creation of Mi-ra for Kim’s film.)  Here, the only creative reaction to family is escape. Could we call that a centrifugal family? The alternative family would then  be a kind of poorer people’s centripetal response. Just one year before Family Ties, a micro-budget film like Five Is Too Many (2005) had brought together a group of mostly young misfits. Like the characters in Kim Tae-yong’s film, they are working class – when work can be found – if anyone wants it. The five of them develop a sense of belonging together, belonging to one another, in ways their real families had denied them. Family as something halfway freely chosen, halfway stumbled into, not a matter of blood and lineage, not of striving middle-class social proprieties. Very alternative but still  family of a sort. Family Ties shapes the possibilities as well as anyone had before. By now, films such as The Boomerang Family (2013) and many like it have turned the alternative family into a pretty safe, stale subgenre. Director Kim’s film has lost none of its ability to make the birth of one family a special cinematic experience.

Memento Mori (여고괴담 두번째 이야기, 1999)

25 June, 7pm
Director: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong
Cast: Kim Gyu-ri, Park Ye-jin, Lee Young-jin
97 mins / cert 12

Memento Mori

Min-ah discovers a purple diary. As she reads through the pages, she realises it is a journal exchanged between Hyo-shin and Shee-eun. Min-ah suspects something more than friendship is going on between the two, and her suspicion becomes stronger as she discovers them together in the school’s emergency room. Hyo-shin’s sudden death evokes a series of strange occurrences to which the journal contributes. Eventually, the school is transformed from its rather tranquil exterior of rules and regulations into a place of morbid carnivalesque, as if “Memento Mori” written in the journal, meaning “remember the dead”, has come to life.

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