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Month of Horror 2017: Dealer’s Choice – Song Kang-ho: The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok)

10/13/2017 – Song Kang-ho: The Quiet Family (Choyonghan kajok) (1998)
Directed by Kim Jee-woon

The Quiet Family is Kim Jee-woon’s debut picture and also starred Choi Min-sik (later to be made famous in the West by Oldboy and Lucy). I’m sure there’s a lot of things I could talk about here but it seems like I’ve covered most of them in regards to this movie (this is what happens when I pick a movie first and get lazy checking my DVD Queue). I’ve already talked about South Korean horror if comparatively briefly and horror-comedy. Heck in the former I even spent it extensively discussing one of the two Kim Jee-woon films I’ve seen so any write up on and he’s still the one of the big three Korean directors (along with Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook) I am least familiar with.

So instead I’ll highlight one of the major supporting actors in the film even if this is one of only four horror films he’s starred and his best work has come elsewhere. Song Kang-ho was coming off his breakthrough role in No. 3 when he made The Quiet Family and would spend the next two decades being the best part of seemingly every prominent South Korean film. He’s starred in films (and horror films) for each of the three directors and it’s almost amazing the run he’s done but also the variety of roles he’s played in each. In Joint Security Areahe plays an experienced North Korean officer who’s always got such a confident posture. In Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance he’s an ordinary man wracked by grief and yet determined for revenge. In Memories of Murder he’s an in over his head detective who clearly models himself off a very American styled cop and not in a wholesome nor crooked way, just a brutal way.

In The Host, his third horror title (the skipped one is Antarctic Journal which is one of his least well regarded or even cared about films) and the one he did for Bong Joon-ho, he’s hardly the brightest man and in the tradition of say Shaun in Shaun of the Dead, someone just trying to do something and take care of his own even if it means risking the lives of himself and others. The Good, The Bad, the Weird slots him into the third of that list, an action survivor and rogue who’s able to get himself out of all sorts of scrapes despite being not quite right in the head SPOILERS with the reveal that he may be the baddest of them all (or at least a very close second) and merely hiding behind stupidity likely to get others to underestimate him. END OF SPOILERS

Thirst, his Park Chan-wook horror turn, turns him into a meek but pious priest SPOILERS whose goodness turns him into a vampire and eventually capable of monstrous acts despite all his attempts to stay on the side of good. END OF SPOILERS Finally there’s Snowpiecer, which is both Bong and his English language debuts (I can’t remember if he said anything in English but you know…) which was awesome in spite of some missed opportunities and saw him as a largely functioning drug addict dragged along with his daughter and who knows full well his role in all this. It’s probably the only of the films that he isn’t the highlight performance wise and how can one compete with Alison Pill’s fantastic one scene wonder or whatever the hell Tilda Swinton was doing. That’s not even counting the numerous films such as The Show Must Go OnSecret SunshineThe Attorney, and The Age of Shadow where he’s been a steady award show presence as he racks up acclaim.

The film is the Korean original that was remade as The Happiness of the Katakuris, a far more bonkers horror-comedy-musical-occasionally animated masterwork from Takashi Miike. This film however is merely a black comedy-horror film. Anyone familiar with that one knows the basic story but for those who don’t, it tells of a family who opens up a new mountain lodge and are eager for their first customers despite barely anyone even knowing they exist and the few who do are unwilling to stay. A crazy old woman wanders past the place and seemingly curses it. Whether the curse actually works or not is unclear but it is pretty safe to say that things go tits up rather quick.

A lone hiker finally stumbles upon their lodge and asks to rent a room and just when it seems like their luck is changing, SPOILERS they find the man the next day in his room having stabbed himself with a room key he meticulously sharpened the night before. Unsure if it is a murder or a suicide and not wanting to get their lodge shut down, they decide to bury the body but this is only the start. A couple stops by for well, what young couples frequently need a hotel room for only to die of a pill overdose (well seemingly as the man wakes up as they go to bury him forcing the father to finish him off). Another couple stays and is almost murdered for finding the wallet of the dead man but the family is luckily able to play it off as something else. Another guest attempts to rape youngest daughter (who has remained in the dark about the whole thing) but she is saved and the attempted rapist chased off a cliff while his friend is kept tied up to prevent him from talking.

Things only escalate as a cop comes to investigate the disappearances of a number of people exacerbating all of the problems. The family has to deal with the constant threat of the discovery of the bodies as more and more pile up, their original site is under threat by a road, the bodies are uncovered in the rain, and finally a fire meant to finish the job instead almost killing the parents. We get a hitman, an undercover cop, inheritance claims END OF SPOILERS and it’s as if all these Coen Brothers movies are just piling up at this poor family’s doorstep and it turns the film into a Coen Brothers movie itself. They made one poor decision to try and save themselves and just about all the other issues stem from this one decision.

The Quiet Family is a great movie but it definitely suffers in comparison to its superior and more daring remake. It’s still pretty ambitious on its own though and a heck of a first feature and avoids most of the issues that usually arise in those. None of that wishy washy “I think he will be a great director one day” nonsense. Song is also great here but generally holds back more than normal as he’s left supporting the parent characters. He’s more “part of a great ensemble” than “clear standout” but there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Next up: I go back to subjecting myself to crap as I talk about the Hannibal Lecter series as a whole. Not because I’m implying the series is crap, but because the only film I haven’t seen in the franchise is Hannibal Rising.

2017 Partial Schedule