Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score – 4/5
A Model Family is a well written, absorbing and deliciously twisted crime thriller. With a title like “A Model Family”, the irony here is that the characters that make up this family are anything but a tight unit.
Netflix’s latest K-drama is a 10 episode exploration of loyalty and the lengths one will go to protect their family. But then it’s also about the perception VS reality of one’s family; how the surface can sometimes show a very different story to what’s really going on under the hood. This motif of family is not only in the conventional sense of blood relatives though, it also extends out to family ties for the drug ring gangsters too.
With each episode clocking in at around 40 minutes or so, A Model Family is smartly paced, with the chapters blending into one another nicely. Each features a lovely hook at the end to keep you watching, and a welcome flashback at the start to flesh out character dynamics, history or something that happened off-screen to justify a shocking twist.
This is an intelligent way of exuding exposition, and late on we’re also graced with some black and white shots of earlier events in the show to give more context and gravitas to what’s happening.
The story itself centers on Park Dong-Ha, a hardworking but poverty-stricken guy. He does his best for his family and attempts to get a promotion by bribing one of the professors he’s working with. Unfortunately, the money he uses is supposed to be for his son’s heart surgery, and it backfires spectacularly.
Desperate for money, Dong-Ha strikes luck on the way home from work, noticing two bags of money in the back of a car. The two men inside are dead. After taking the money and burying the bodies in his own back garden, Dong-Ha unwittingly tumbles head-first into the seedy underbelly of crime, and in particular the Yongsoo and Sangseon Drug Rings.
Kwang-Chul, the second-in-command for this drug ring, starts to investigate, leading him to Dong-Ha’s back garden. Only, it also brings officer Joo-Hyun there too. Will Dong-Ha come out of this on top?
The first 3 or 4 episodes play out like a game of cat and mouse, as Dong-Ha attempts to keep his nerve in the wake of these gangsters and police officers sniffing around his neighbourhood looking for answers.
Around the midway point, the dynamic of the show shifts slightly to shed more light on the Sangseon and Yongsoo Drug Rings and those involved in pedaling the gear around. This is where that aforementioned quip about family comes in. These blood brothers – Kwang-Chul, Kang-Jun and Yoon-Soo – are the ringleaders of the operation but a rift starts to grow between them thanks to Dong-Ha.
A Model Family changes its meaning late on to something much more thematic, examining the lengths one will go for justice and loyalty. Even Joo-Hyun, the officer investigating the Drug Ring, is given a compelling arc and most of these characters have a solid and satisfying conclusion to them. However, do be aware that the final scenes of the season are pretty ambiguous, meaning we may or may not be getting a second season.
The acting all round is fantastic, with Jung Woo compelling as Park Dong-Ha. Likewise, Park Hee-Soon is chilling as Kwang-Chul and the ever-dependable Choi Moo-Sung bringing a lot of gravitas as Yong-Soo. Everyone else puts in a good performance too but personally, these three stand out as the best.
Aesthetically, the show has slick editing and a decent soundtrack ,one that uses a lot of guitar tracks to try and echo the feel of an old western. It’s something that works surprisingly well and there are certainly similarities to series like Ozark and Breaking Bad in the way the plot and characters evolve.
While it would be easy to point at A Model Family and call it a Korean copycat, there’s enough here to let this one stand on its own two feet.
The story is much more of an exploration of what it means to be family, wrapped around a pressure cooker situation that’ll keep you gripped to find out what happens next. It’s not perfect, and there are a couple of missteps along the way, but the good pacing and compelling acting – not to mention a slick aesthetic -are enough to recommend this one as a solid watch.
Verdict - 8/10