The Quiet Family

The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok) (2000)

The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok) first published by Movie Gazette

Together with her parents (Park In-hwan, Na Moon-hee), her older brother and sister (Song Kang-ho, Lee Yun-seong) and her uncle (Choi Min-sik), seventeen-year old Kang Mi-na (Ko Ho-kyung) moves from downtown Seoul to a mountainous country region to open the ‘Misty Lodge’ – but their dream of making a killing from the passing trade in hikers comes true not quite as expected when their very first guest dies overnight in mysterious circumstances. Determined that their new business should not be ruined, the family secretly buries the body in the nearby woods, only to find that their next two guests also die on the premises in a suicide pact – and soon it seems that almost anyone who comes to visit ends up dead. With the local police chief sniffing about, a contract killer due to arrive, and corpses that just will not stay long buried, this is one family that has a lot of trouble keeping its skeletons in its closet.

Like hotelier Norman Bates and his beloved mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, like the three generations of slaughterhouse workers in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or like the redneck residents of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, the Kangs fall into a long tradition of cinematic families that have to slay together to stay together – except that the Kangs’ predicament arises not so much out of murderous malice as mischance and miscommunication, so that Kim Jee-woon’s feature debut The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok) remains throughout a black farce that merely toys with the tropes of horror.

Not that, amidst all the wry absurdity, more serious issues are kept entirely at bay – for lurking not so very far beneath the surface of The Quiet Family is a political satire of a country where the Cold War mindset of reticence and paranoia has never gone away, where strangers are both welcomed and viewed with suspicion, and where, no matter how much one might like to forget them, the bodies of the recently fallen continue to surface. It comes as little surprise to learn that Misty Inn has been built upon a former military installation, or that North Korean spies are believed to have infiltrated the area (news reports of which regularly punctuate the film) – for the Kangs embody all the contradictory hopes and anxieties of a Korea that has, at least technically, been at war with the North for over fifty years.

It is the curse of Kim Jee-woon that if his films gain recognition at all outside his native Korea, it is only through imitation. For his wrestling comedy The Foul King (2000), a huge box-office success at home, is virtually unknown abroad – while his superb ghost story A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is doomed to be overshadowed in the West by the forthcoming, no doubt inferior English-language remake. Similarly The Quiet Family is better known for its outrageous reimagining by Takashi Miike as The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001). Yet if The Quiet Family lacks the wild claymation prologue and genre-busting song-and-dance numbers of this Japanese retread, it is still far less obvious (and less repetitive) than Miike’s one-joke film, while every bit as surreal. With Kim Jee-woon’s trademark attention to production detail, and performances that find just the right balance between realism and caricature, The Quiet Family is an amiably strange film for anyone who likes their humour very, very dark.

strap: Kim Jee-woon’s Hitchcockian farce puts the dead in deadpan, showing a family and a country hilariously haunted by their own secrecy