The Quiet Family was the directorial debut of Kim Jee-woon who now has an impressive back-catalogue of films including A Bittersweet Life, and A Tale of Two Sisters. This would be the first DVD I would import from South Korea. It was back in the early 2000’s and I was in high school. I have no idea why I was attracted to this film but I’m grateful I bought it because it allowed me to see that South Korea is a region brimming with brilliant ideas and talent and just as the Korean wave was really gaining momentum. I also got two pretty cool postcards with the DVD but that’s neither here nor there…
When Kang Tae-Gu (Park In-hwan) loses his job in Seoul the Kang family move to an old mountain cottage and convert it into an inn despite knowing nothing about the lodging business. With the entire family pitching in to help including mother (Na Moon-hee), delinquent son Yeong-min (Song Kang-ho), two daughters Mi-su (Lee Yoon-sung) and Mi-Na (Ko Ho-kyeong) and uncle Chang-ku (Choi Min-sik) there is a lot of anticipation for their first guest. It takes some time but eventually a strange man arrives and asks for a room. The next morning that man is found dead having committed suicide. The family panic at first but the father insists that they hide the corpse to prevent a bad reputation building. Unfortunately this is just the first incident which will leave many corpses who strewn around the inn.
This is a black comedy of the finest calibre. Everything from acting to direction is carefully moderated with nothing wasted.
One can detect an exacting sense of control on the part of Kim Jee-woon in every camera movement and scene set-up. The initial roving camera maps out the inn during the opening credit sequence then observes the hilarity that ensues when characters blunder around the location. It is this control that would later surface in the even more impressive film A Tale of Two Sisters.
The writing, editing and direction can be described as flawless. No shot or sequence feels superfluous and the film maintains a snappy pace with every sub-plot moving along and surfacing in totally unexpected ways and wrapping up nicely. Whether its North Korean spies or love-addled girls’ the events just keep moving.
Equally controlled is the acting. As the bodies pile up the humour builds because of the reactions of the characters. Initial horror and confusion give way to increasingly amusing apathy and pride. At one point when forced to move the bodies already buried the father asks “How many are there?”
Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho may be familiar from major hits like Old Boy and The Host but their talents are already in evidence in this early film. Choi Min-sik is loveable as a bumbling but nice uncle while Song Kang-ho gets some of the best comedic moments thanks to his character’s juvenile nature and his expressive face which conveys everything from surliness to outright terror.
As the daughters Ko Ho-kyeong and Lee Yoon-sung naturally convey sibling affection and irritation with the adolescent capriciousness and a degree of humour that allows some of the situations which may feel contrived work naturally. Providing the backbone of the film are Park In-hwan, Na Moon-hee who are so desperate to make the inn succeed that they will commit increasingly atrocious acts. It is they who keep the family unified in the face of so much death and disaster.
To call this funny is an understatement. The script along with the acting creates a focussed comedy which becomes steadily farcical. Kim Je-woon’s first feature film displays his talents perfectly and also acts as an excellent introduction to South Korean cinema and its future superstars. It would later be remade as The Happiness of the Katakuri’s by Takashi Miike but for my money the Korean original is better.
The Quiet Family
Release Date: 25th April 1998 (South Korea)
Running Time: 105 mins.
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Writers: Kim Jee-woon
Starring: Park In-hwan, Na Moon-hee, Song Kang-ho, Choi Min-sik, Ko Ho-kyeong, Lee Yoon-sung