In his 1998 filmmaking debut "The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok)", "Foul King (Banchikwang)" director Kim Ji-woon presents an inspiring story about how a crisis strengthens the bonds between the members of a dysfunctional family, bringing them closer together in a rare display of domestic solidarity. Unfortunately, the list of family-building activities represented in this South Korean black comedy includes murder, dumping the corpses into shallow graves, and, of course, staying quiet about it.
The family in question is the Kangs, who have moved from Seoul to operate the Misty Lodge, an isolated mountain lodge. The family is dominated by no-nonsense father Tae-gu (Park In-hwan of "One Fine Spring Day"), with loyal wife (Na Mun-hee) always at his side. The younger members of the family include sex-obsessed son Yeong-min (Song Kang-ho of "Joint Security Area"), clueless daughter Mi-su (Lee Yeon-sung), and sullen daughter Mi-na (Go Ho-kyung). Finally, rounding out the Kang clan is Tae-gu's younger brother (Choi Min-shik, who starred alongside Song in "Shiri").
After a slow start, the Kangs finally receive their very first guest. The joy is short-lived though, as the man is found dead the very next morning, apparently having committed suicide. Concerned that a dead body will 'kill' business and attract unwanted police attention, Tae-gu orders his sons to bury the man in the woods. Unfortunately, this is only the first entry in the Kang list of questionable deeds. Their next customers, a young couple, commit suicide after a passionate night of lovemaking (I dunno, maybe they saw Yoshimitsu Morita's "Lost Paradise"), and once again, the Kang's cover it up.
As the anarchy at the Misty Lodge increases, so does the body count. A hiker who tries to take advantage of Mi-su becomes acquainted with the business end of a shovel. A case of mistaken identity results in an assassination attempt at the lodge to go horribly wrong. To further add to their troubles, the Kangs receive word that the government plans to pave the road in front of the lodge, requiring them to find somewhere else to hide the bodies. And if juggling all these bodies and hiding the evidence wasn't difficult enough already, the police begin sniffing around as part of a missing persons investigation.
"The Quiet Family" finds an easy middle between the two extremes of its story. On the one hand, with its unconventional camerawork and bouncy Western pop soundtrack, the energetic production underscores the individual quirks of each family member (such as Mi-su's complete ignorance of what the rest of the family is up to), as well as the increasingly absurd situations they find themselves in (such as an attempt to incinerate the growing pile of cadavers that goes horribly wrong). However, at the same time, director Kim pushes the horror aspects of the script, and isn't squeamish at shocking the audience with some of the film's more grisly moments, such as the effect of a heavy rainstorm on the shallow graves that the Kangs have dug, or the shock when they one of the bodies unexpectedly comes back to life.
Kim also adds an additional layer of subtlety to "The Quiet Family" by hinting that the events depicted may be apocryphal, being the product of an overactive imagination. Clues are provided in that the story is told from the perspective of Mi-na, a 17-year old full of cynicism and gloom (think Christina Ricci in "The Addams Family"), and she appears in the film's opening scene, where she complains that "it's been thirteen days since we moved from the city... and still nothing has happened", as well as the curious closing scene, which upon an initial viewing, may make little sense.
The ensemble that Kim has gathered is strong. Park is perfect as the brutish family patriarch, and is ably supported by Na as his diligent wife. Popular actor Choi, who has made a career out of playing 'tough guys' (most recently in "Failan"), is cast against type as Tae-gu's dim-witted yet warm-hearted younger brother. The always likable Song, who would later star in Kim's follow-up feature "Foul King", shows off his gift for comic timing that helped establish his acting career. Finally, as the dour Mi-na, Go delivers an appropriately acerbic performance with the requisite amount of dry wit.
If you take your comedies black, then you need to look no further than "The Quiet Family". Straddling the fine line between humor and horror, "The Quiet Family" has developed quite a following at home and on the international festival circuit, including being recently remade by cult Japanese director Takashi Miike as "The Happiness of the Katakuri's (Katakuri-ke no kôfuku)". With the growing popularity of Korean films in international markets, "The Quiet Family" has just been re-released as a Hong Kong-import DVD by film distributor Modern, providing a nice alternative to the older VCD release that lacked English subtitles. Definitely not your ordinary 'family film'.