Death is often tragic. But it’s even sadder when a young person has died from their own hand. Korean film, Thread Of Lies (우아한 거짓말) deals with this taboo issue in a soft and tender way. It also slowly reveals the tragic set of circumstances surrounding the lead character’s passing and does so with a great sense of emotion and feeling.
The film is directed by Lee Han (Punch) and is based on a novel by Kim Ryeo-ryung called Elegant Lies. The story follows Hyeon-sook (Kim Hee-ae), a widowed mother of two teenage girls. As a single mum, she works at a supermarket and often struggles to make ends meet. But she does find comfort in her youngest daughter, 14-year old Cheon-ji (Kim Hyang-gi).
Cheon-ji is a bookish girl who is studious and rarely complains or asks for anything. She is the opposite to her cool and popular elder sister, Man-ji (Ko Ah-sung). On a seemingly normal school day, Cheon-ji commits suicide and doesn’t leave a note behind. This sends her mother and sister reeling into a tidal wave of emotions like grief and anger, as they question if they could have saved her by doing things differently like being nicer to her or paying her more attention.
The mother and daughter are soon forced to move to a rundown apartment where they meet Choo Sang-park (Yoo Ah-in) who knew Cheon-ji and she confided in him. He also doubles as the butt of a running joke about his long, rocker hair style. Man-ji, meanwhile, grapples with her loss by attempting to learn more about her younger sister.
Man-Ji discovers that the youngster was depressed. She was also bullied and manipulated by her only friend, a popular girl named Hwa-yeon (Kim Yoo-jung). In one heart-wrenching scene, Hwa-yeon deliberately contributes to Cheon-ji’s alienation from their schoolmates as the former invites the outcast to her birthday party, but makes her arrive late and then picks on her with the other girls via text message. The saving grace in this sad situation is that a series of notes from Cheon-ji are eventually found hidden in five different balls of wool (knitting had always been her favourite hobby).
Thread Of lies slowly reveals its story through a series of non-linear flashbacks and episodes. It remains impartial as it shows how a number of the characters were complicit in Cheon-ji’s death. It is subtle and a very realistic portrayal of high-school friendships and while tragic, it also resonates and is engaging. The performances from the strong, predominantly female cast are solid and low key as they add to the emotion, tension and mystery of this tale.
As the story unfolds, more and more layers are revealed like an onion to show a complex person who was depressed, troubled and treated cruelly. Ultimately, this is an excellent film that is beautifully shot. It’s also a detailed human drama that acts like a punch to the heart and will leave you sitting on the edge of your seats, wanting to know exactly what happened to Cheon-ji. In short, it’s magnificent.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Thread Of Lies (우아한 거짓말) screens on 15 September 2014 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) as part of the 5th Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA). For more information and tickets please visit: https://www.acmi.net.au/film/festivals/5th-korean-film-festival-in-australia/thread-of-lies/ and for other dates of its run as part of KOFFIA, head here: http://koffia.com.au/