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Movie Review: The Quiet Family

Director Kim Jee-woon is one of the most successful directors in Korean cinema and is responsible for a range of hit films from the so-called kimchi Western of The Good, the Bad, and the Weird back to A Tale of Two Sisters, a film that is arguably one of the greatest horror films made. With a filmography full of successful genre films, perhaps it was no surprise that he was frequently asked to direct in Hollywood and early this year saw the release of the first film he made with Hollywood, the Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback action film, The Last Stand.

Interestingly enough, Kim Jee-woon got his start with a black comedy called The Quiet Family, a story about a family, the Kangs, that buys a lodge on a mountain and runs it together. Unfortunately business is slow and no hikers have yet opted to stay at the lodge. One evening the family gets their first paying guest only to discover in the morning that he committed suicide overnight. With the questionable vanishing of the guest’s wallet and high potential for bad publicity, the family patriarch (Park In-hwan) decides that they will keep the death quiet and bury the body in the mountain.

But as more guests arrive and die under a variety of circumstances, the family members find themselves having to hide an increasing number of bodies as each new guest brings another complication into their lives.

Despite the macabre subject matter, the film is frequently hilarious and that is largely due to both the characterization of the often awkward family members as well as some great moments of dramatic irony. The desperation that they show for getting paying customers early on in the film has them running outside and lining up to invite passing hikers to stay or having all six of them earnestly watch as a guest fills out the guestbook, but the result is more creepy than inviting; hilariously, their earnestness is actually what drives away the early guests.

One thing that’s particularly interesting about the story is how the family adapts to their circumstances. While hiding the first body is a frightening act for them, each successive corpse becomes less of a life-and-death situation and more of a nuisance until a more serious complication arises. The casual way that the family adjusts to the deaths that happen around them is amusingly cynical.

The film suffers a few minor hiccups, mostly at the film’s ending, where it fails to resolve a couple subplots and the character logic gets a little harder to swallow. I think it will be fridge logic for most since the film’s finale happens so quickly, but some viewers might find it bothersome, despite the amusing irony of the film’s end.

In addition to the mostly intelligent and darkly comic script, the film also benefits from excellent performances by a bevy of highly talented actors, many whom have become top stars in Korea since this project, including a young Song Kang-ho as the perverted and somewhat delinquent son Young-min, Choi Min-shik as his nice-guy uncle, and minor appearances by Jung Jae-young and Jung Woong-in as some of the troublemaking hikers. Even with all this nascent star power, the veterans Park In-hwan and Na Mun-hee manage to hold their own as the parents and young Go Ho-kyung is surprisingly captivating as the unreadable youngest daughter, Mina.

Furthermore, for a first feature, The Quiet Family is rich in both directorial prowess and production design with a stylish-but-not-too-flashy floating camera intro that settles into a genuinely calm tone that appropriately, but quietly, gets darker and more askew as the film’s events get crazier. However, Kim Jee-woon is never too heavy handed with his direction, letting his story and his characters do the heavy work, only pressing in as a director to help convey their perspectives.

Finally, like the majority of his output before The Last StandThe Quiet Family has excellent production design with the lodge’s dark green wallpaper, dark finish, and close quarters working in concert with Jung Gwang-seok’s cool tempered cinematography that grows more foreboding and soaked in unstable neons or weak incandescents, matching the increasing darkness of the film. The sets, costumes, and lighting not only look good, but they look appropriate for their scenes and add to the overall tone of the film.

The Quiet Family was an auspicious start for director Kim Jee-woon, and maybe it’s no small surprise that such a film was loaded with talent that would go on to become major stars. With a darkly ironic script, deliciously awkward characters, artistic but never impractical production elements, and just the right amount of style in the direction, it’s not hard to forgive the film of its perhaps too-quickly-resolved end. The Quiet Family will likely remain one of the best dark comedies to come out of Korea and serve as a reminder alongside The Foul King that director Kim’s original vision is just as good outside of dedicated genre film as it is within it. 9/10.

Note: There appear to still be Hong Kong-originated DVDs of the film available for purchase from importers. I’ve read some complaints about poor English language subtitling on these versions and it seems like the U.S. edition by Tai Seng is based on the Hong Kong version as well.

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Thank you for another movie review...

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Great review and you really do the movie justice without forgetting about its few issues. I think this is one of those movies where its fun outweighs its problems. Mistakes and bad decisions can be found in any fictional work, but depending on the quality and quantity of the good, a lot can be forgiven.

I'd recommend this movie to any fan of black comedy and anyone interested in seeing what the genre can be like at its best in Korea.

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I love love love the Tale of 2 Sisters :).
It's too bad Director Kim got stuck with Arnold in Last Stand:(. I hope he 'll get to work with better actors in the future.

Thank you for the review. I hope I'll find it with subs.

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Hello! It's nice to see someone doing movie reviews on this site (particularly at a time when my interest in Kmovies has started increasing). I read some of your other reviews just the other day and they were interesting. So keep up the good work. =)

The Quiet Family sounds intriguing and I'll certainly watch it (lucky me, youtube has it with eng subs). Black comedy is always a plus.

Btw, I wonder if it's okay to request a review on a particular movie. I'm thinking "Castaway on the Moon" or maybe "Rough Cut" because the latter one has been bugging me about something and I was curious how you might explore these movies.

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I second 'Castaway on the Moon'. Wonderful movie.

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I love castaway as well

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Loved it too. You cant go wrong with Jung Jae-young.

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Loved both those movies quite a bit and yes, if they're ever on your list I'd be very eager to hear your thoughts as well.

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The reviews are a bit older and written in a different style, but I have Castaway and Rough Cut both reviewed on my own movie blog: http://init-scenes.blogspot.com/2011/01/inbox_20.html and http://init-scenes.blogspot.com/2010/02/blog-post.html

If you have any specific questions about either movie, you're welcome to ask me on my Tumblr: http://refreshdaemon.tumblr.com/ask

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Omg, thank you soooo much. You don't know how much that question had been bothering ever since watching Rough Cut, lol. But wow....that was really insightful and it does make sense in light of all the dialogue that Suta and Gangpae had throughout the movie. I like how you delved deep into the meaning of the metaphors. So yeah...seriously, thanks for answering...now I can finally put this movie to rest, hehe.

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Thanks for this. I personally liked the ending on 'Castaway on the Moon' as an outcome, but I do agree the way it was presented was a bit overly dramatic.

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Thanks for the review ! I love Kim Jee-woon's (Korean) movies. I'll look for this (at YT, that is).

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you can watch it with eng sub on youtube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEadi9TsMeI

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Thank you :).

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Thank you for the review!!!

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I stopped reading right above the first picture so I would not spoil it for myself. This movie sounds great. Can hardly wait to see it. I just know it is going to make me laugh a lot. TY much for review.

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This was one of the earliest K-movies I saw (by renting it from my uni's film library!) and it really made me want to explore korean films more.
It is a perfect black comedy and the entire cast does an exceptional job; however, its not for everyone. I recommended it to my mom who hated it cause the repeated deaths were too much for her taste - she said it felt inappropriate?!

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Thanks for the review. I bought this movie at amazon with German dub and subtitles and highly recommend it. This was one of my first Korean movies I watched and I'm really fond of it.

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I want to see this!
That synopsis you wrote near the start really drew me in - I can only imagine the hilarity that ensues..
If only I could get a copy of this film..
Also, I definitely feel like watching tale of two sisters now. I was too young when I first got a glimpse of it so I wasnt allowed to watch it, but I think 20 is a sufficiently mature age to watch this and not be too scarred by its horror. (plus, lim soo jung? And moon geun young? And the big one, Kim gap soo? They're some of my favourites. I need to get on this asap )

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oh i just watched this movie.. too morbid for my taste. haha

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Thanks for the review gonna go ahead and watch this...

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Loved this film! I believe it's a remake of a Japanese film, The Happiness of the Katakuris, but I'm not 100% sure of that. I've seen both, and they are both delightful in their own dark way.

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The Happiness of the Katakuris, released in 2001, is actually a Japanese remake of The Quiet Family, released in 1998. Despite being a remake, I think Katakuris really is its own interesting and quirky movie.

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I probably saw Katakuris before I saw Quiet Family..anyway, thanks for the clarification. And love these reviews. It's bringing to people's attention so many great Korean films before they were influenced by Hollywood.

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Will it give me nightmares?

Thanks for the review on this movie refresh daemon. You make it sound like an interesting watch, but I like to sleep with the lights off.

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Well, it put me to sleep so I stopped watching it.... :)

Thanks for the review.

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No. Quiet Family is a horror-comedy. It's not even a horror movie. It's just strangely funny.

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Thanks. I'll put it on my ever growing list.

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What I particularly love about this movie is the OST!

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I love the music in the film too. It's such a quirky mix.

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OMG! I watched this forever ago on Arirang TV.
So very hilarious
Thank u for the review

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