Review: The Quiet Family (1998)

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Squeamish about corpses? Want to do something about it? Well, watch The Quiet Family and you’ll see enough to cure you for life. Either that or you’ll lock yourself in your bedroom and refuse to come out.

The genre is black comedy, and it is really quite black. If you can’t laugh at Mother, Father, Uncle, and Son trundling a pair of suicide-pact lovers into the woods in wheelbarrows, then I suggest you steer clear. If you’re revolted at the thought of having to re-bury several corpses of assorted vintages because the roadworks will go through their graves, then give this film a miss. And if you’d grimace, not laugh, at the sight of one of the corpses struggling free of his plastic wrapping and lurching about, only to get a good crack about the head with a shovel, then you probably shouldn’t watch.

And that would be a pity, because you’d miss one of the best films to come out of Asia. Ever. The first film by director/writer Kim Ji-woon, it’s absolutely meticulous in terms of timing, pace, and characters: everything that makes a comedy work is fine-tuned in every detail. It’s an incredibly strong first film, but considering Kim went on to make The Foul King, A Tale Of Two Sisters, and A Bittersweet Life, we shouldn’t be surprised.

From the opening credits the film grabs your attention: a point-of-view meander through the newly-purchased lodge, to the mellow strains of a hip hop version of a Tijuana Brass classic. The music throughout supports the action (or inaction) without drowning it, in a manner which should bring tears to the eyes of anyone who, like me, has been forced to sit through too many films drenched in violins. I love the whole soundtrack, from the Stray Cats rockabilly to the pert Schubert piano to the Partridge Family “I think I love you” over the end credits. You might find yourself singing along.

What can I say about the cast? Given that it includes two of the best actors in Korea, in Choi Min-shik (Old Boy, Sympathy For Lady Vengeance) and Song Kang-ho (Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Memories of Murder, JSA (Joint Security Area)), you’d think that would be enough. But it ain’t. The rest of the cast are fully capable of wresting the spotlight from the two heavyweights: my favourite is the actress playing the mother, Na Mun-hee (seen recently as the ailing gran in Crying Fist).

I’ve left it until now to mention that this film was remade by Miike, as Happiness Of The Katakuris, and I’ve done this deliberately. In my never-humble opinion, this film is much better in a lot of ways, including cast, soundtrack, and consistency, to say nothing of the fact that I don’t much like musicals. But if you saw Miike’s film and liked it, you may well like this one: there are few similarities beyond the basic plot, so it will feel like a whole different film.

9 torrential rains threatening exposure out of 10.
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