One of the surprise hits with foreign crix at the Pusan fest, “The Quiet Family” is a sly, genuinely anarchic comedy of escalating absurdity about an “average” Korean family whose way of doing business would have given Ed Gein pause for thought. Credited locally with reviving the dormant horrorgenre in Korean cinema, it’s actually more like a modern-day slice of Grand Guignol. Specialized tube sales could follow latenight festival dates.
Seen through the eyes of 17-year-old daughter Mi-na (Go Ho-kyung), story centers on the Kang family, who sink their savings into an isolated cottage in the hills that they name Misty Lodge, and nervously await their first guest. When he turns out to be a weird hobo and is found dead the next morning of apparent suicide, the father (Park In-hwan) decides they must bury the corpse if business is to continue. Unfortunately, their next customers are a young couple who commit double suicide after a night of passionate lovemaking, so they’re soon pushing up daisies, too.
Thereafter, things go from bad to worse. One of the Kang daughters, Mi-su (Lee Yeon-sung), is almost raped in the woods by a hiker until her brother, Yeong-min (Song Kang-ho), steps in and uses the would-be rapist for compost as well. And when the government decides to build a road right in front of the lodge, the family hurriedly has to find another location for its growing collection of cadavers.
The family finally tips over into total madness when Kang Sr. is asked by a business friend, Park, if he can use the out-of-the-way lodge to get rid of his aged father’s gold-digging new bride. The plan goes chaotically awry when the Kangs mistake the identity of Park’s hired assassin (Lee Ki-yeong).
Casting some of the roles against type, and playing the whole thing as a perfectly normal episode in the life of an economically strapped family (though script was written prior to the Asian meltdown), former legit writer-director Kim Ji-un, 34, draws wonderful ensemble playing from his cast. (One nice running joke is Mi-su being totally unaware of what her crazy family is up to.)
Pic doesn’t labor its multitude of subtexts — the sanctity of family solidarity, the capacity for sudden violence in buttoned-up Korean society — even though, in the movie’s creepy final shot, the audience is left in no doubt that this isn’t just a straightforward comedy. Film’s look is generally unfussy, with subdued, sometimes muddy color that’s fitting in the circumstances.