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Chronicle of a Blood Merchant - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Heo Sam-gwan

South Korea 2014


Ha Jeong-woo

Ha Jeong-woo
Ha Ji-won
Nam Da-reum
No Kang-min
Cheon Hyeon-seok
Min Moo-je
Jeon Hye-jin
Jang Gwang
Joo Jin-mo
Jeong Man-sik
Seong Dong-il

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Chronicle of a Blood Merchant

Chronicle of a Blood Merchant - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Ho Sam-gwan (Ha Jeong-woo) lives in a village and helps rebuild his home country after the Korean War. One day he runs into the girl Ok-ran (Ha Ji-won) and instantly knows that he will marry her eventually. The only problem is that he has no money and she has already a boyfriend. When Sam-gwan hears that he can earn good money by selling his blood he tries to get together as much money as possible in order to convince Ok-ran's father the he should be the one marrying his daughter. After he got the blessing of her father he marries Ok-ran. Eleven years later they have three sons: Il-rak (Nam Da-reum), I-rak (No Kang-min) and Sam-rak (Cheon Hyeon-seok). The family may not be rich, but they have a house and are happy. However, the rumor is spreading that Il-rak isn't really Sam-gwan's sons, but that of Ha So-yong (Min Moo-je), Ok-ran's former fiancé. When the rumor turns out to be true Sam-gwan's relationship to his son is destroyed and he feels like an idiot for having raised another man's son for eleven years. But Il-rak still regards Sam-gwan as his father and fights for his attention.

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Review: Despite great actors the minimalistic story soon leaves no doubt that "Chronicle of a Blood Merchant" is based on a novel and that the depiction of thoughts and inner feelings can't be achieved in the medium film as well as in a book. In fact, the movie is based on the Chinese novel of the same name by Yu Hua, revolving around a father who facing different adversities somehow is trying to hold together his family. The sets are created with a great eye for detail and take you to a very believable Korea of the 50s and 60s. You also grow fond of the family members quickly and the most of the time lighthearted tone really makes the minutes fly by. Yet, from a certain point onwards you start to wonder whether the film will continue to just amble along or actually wants to convey a message.

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Unfortuntately, it turns out that the flick never budges from its minimalistic nature. From a certain point in the story onwards this is simply starting to become odd. Nothing really seems to happen until the last thirty minutes. But what we get then is a climax that suddenly drops all other characters completely and merely revolves around an illness and a father who wants to save his son. Not only does this make the movie cheesy, but every form of emotional weight you might have hoped for is turned in for a tearjerker that doesn't work and seems absolutely hackneyed in the end. There is nothing to say against a bit of minimalism, but a movie still should have some sort of meaning, if it doesn't just want to satisfy the most basic desire for entertainment. But "Chronicle of a Blood Merchant" doesn't aim at either.

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Lead actor Ha Jeong-woo ("The Berlin File", "The Terror Live") sits on the director's chair for the second time after his debut feature "Fasten your Seatbelt" and he also wrote the screenplay. But there are a few oddities when it comes to the story. There was no reason at all for the plot to turn out so minimalistic. After all, the original work by Yu Hua takes place during the Cultural Revolution and thus also painted a picture of the political problems at the time, a time during which the protagonist somehow had to make ends meet. Since the movie takes place right after the Korean War it would have been a breeze to include the political circumstances at the time and by doing so the film surely would have gained some more meaning as well. But since Park Chung-hee ruled the country with an iron fist back then and today his daughter is the country's president you have to assume (as is also aptly observed by movie critic fellow Pierce Conran) that the filmmaker didn't want to make any unnecessary enemies with a work too critical...

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Aside from South Korea's questionable idea of freedom of opinion these days the film still would have benefited from a less lighthearted tone. When it turns out that the first child isn't from Sam-gwan his wife is bad-mouthed as a whore and the father loses serious face in the original work. But you won't see anything of that in the adaptation. In fact, the family hasn't such a great life, but everyone is still just walking around with a big smile on his/her face. It's obvious, though, that Ha Jeong-woo put a lot of emphasis on the acting and he actually manages to make everyone deliver. The characters may lack a bit of depth, but they are making up for it with their likable nature. This includes the father as well as the mother, played by Ha Ji-won ("Miracle of Giving Fool", "Sector 7"), and several supporting characters.

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You expect the numerous characters introduced to be used in some way or another. But far from it. In the end all threads are dropped in favor of a cheap drama finale. Sadly, that's also the straw that breaks the camel's back. You maybe could have come to terms with this portrait of a family being insignificant, thanks to the good mood conveyed including a soundtrack that could be for a cartoon from the 30s/40s. But the finale ultimately makes the movie fall apart. There is a story that might have been worth telling behind all of this. But we don't get to see any of it. Instead you are wondering why you just invested two hours of your life. For getting a moderately fuzzy feeling at the end? That's simply not enough...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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