The Quiet Family Review
Remade as The Happiness of the Katakuris by Takashi Miike, The Quiet Family may lack that film’s zombies, claymation sequences and The Sound of Music parodies, but has much which Miike held on to. Essentially, the plotlines are the same – a family buys a mountain lodge; a number of guests are killed off either by themselves or by others; the family attempt to cover them up – whilst Kim Ji-Woon’s original is a similarly odd concoction. After all, it features one of the more eclectic soundtracks to feature in a Korean movie, from the mariachi-flavoured hip-hop of Tres Delinquents, which accompanies the opening credits, to the likes of the Partridge Family, the Stray Cats and long forgotten eighties goth band Love and Rockets elsewhere. Indeed, The Quiet Family may best be regarded as an acquired taste.
That said, this is a film which is likely to travel well. The cast members’ subsequent credits include the likes of Joint Security Area, OldBoy and Shiri, which is likely to attract interest, whilst director Kim went on to make A Tale of Two Sisters. Moreover, The Quiet Family possess a fine, mordant wit; it’s not so much a black comedy as bleak comedy. Certainly, anyone expecting something a little more madcap owing to its subject matter may very well come away disappointed. Rather the humour is decidedly deadpan, a situation which serves the film to a better degree. There are no noisy attempts at winning the audience over, simply an acceptance that those with a taste for such comedies – and The Quiet Family is primarily a comedy – will find the film on their own terms.
Yet in being so low key, Kim does have a problem in sustaining momentum. The bodies may pile up soon enough, yet it’s questionable as to whether he has anywhere to go. From the opening scenes we get nods towards the horror genre (ominous crane shots and aural rumbles à la The Evil Dead), yet these are never truly latched onto. Likewise the thriller elements – courtesy of the arrival of a gangland hitman as well as a police officer in the latter stages – are never developed as fully as they could be. As an aside consider Shallow Grave or Les Diaboliques which both gained more mileage from a single corpse – perhaps Kim has simply bitten off more than he can chew?
Indeed, The Quiet Family has a ragged quality which is perhaps unsurprising for a debut feature. It succeeds in the quieter moments (many of the film’s delights come through the petty family antagonisms as opposed to the bigger set pieces) and more than gets by on them, but there is a continual feeling that in order to be more than just a good film it needs something a little extra – most likely a dash of suspense or a greater sense of direction. Certainly, the latter element can be detected during The Quiet Family’s conclusion as rather than build to a finale, it simply peters out.
The Quiet Family comes to the UK DVD market as Region 0 two-disc set. The first houses the film itself and director’s commentary, with the remaining extras occupying the second. Yet whilst this is a release into which some effort has clearly been put, it remains only partially satisfactory. The picture quality, for example, is perhaps not as great as should be expected from a film made as recently as 1998. Admittedly we get an anamorphic transfer of a very clean print, but the image suffers from haloing and is consistently soft and lacking in true definition. It’s by no means unwatchable, merely disappointing. Much the same is true of the soundtrack as we once again are presented with a clean offering, yet it fails to truly impress. Indeed, the differences between the DD2.0 and DD5.1 Korean mixes (with optional English subtitles) are barely discernible, whilst the English dub (also available in either stereo or 5.1 formats) is American voiced and thus hugely distracting.
Things improve slightly with the extras, but again disappointment is present inasmuch as the quality is not concurrent with the quantity. Kim Ji-Woon’s commentary, in which he is joined by actor Song Kang-Ho, is pleasantly relaxed and pleasingly informal. Yet whilst this makes for an inviting listen, it also poses problems inasmuch as the pair never discuss the film with any real depth. Moreover, the English subtitles are unable to keep up with their enthusiastic chat and as such only snippets are translated here and there.
The second disc’s extras are also all in Korean, though here the subtitles are burnt-in (with the exception of the theatrical trailer, which comes without any subtitling). The featurettes are the key pieces here, though the title of the first is somewhat misleading. Rather than a true ‘making of’ it instead offers a look at The Quiet Family’s production design, specifically that of the mountain lodge. It’s a pleasing enough piece, though at six minutes in length can only touch on its subject. The same is also true of the second featurette, this one focussing on the soundtrack choices. At five minutes we only get a cursory discussion of why the likes of the Stray Cats and the Patridge Family were selected, though it’s an engaging piece nonetheless.
Also present on the second disc are a handful interviews recorded a few years after the film’s production. However, seeing as it is the director doing the interviews (or in the case of his interview, actor Song who joined him for the commentary) the discussions are largely on the positive side. That said, the input from a few different faces (including Choi Min-Sik, chatting from the set of OldBoy, in which he played the lead role) does add another dimension.
The disc is rounded off by the one truly worthwhile extra, Kim’s delightful 2001 short film, Coming Out, plus a handful of trailers from The Quiet Family and other Tai Seng UK releases.