Contributor; Queens, New York (@jaceycockrobin)
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The Quiet Family screens Monday, February 28th, as part of BAM Rose Cinema's Kim Jee-woon retrospect- Severely Damaged: The Cinema of Kim Jee-woon.

The first time I saw The Quiet Family, I had just come off a huge Miike jag, so the film had the unfortunate task of living up to its own remake. Compared to The Happiness of the Katakuris, with its animated sequences and over the top musical numbers, Kim Jee-woon's debut film felt almost quaint. Back then, that translated into disappointment. But over a decade later, the director's charming black comedy has escaped the shadow it once cast and can be viewed with a much more objective eye.

The whole thing could be described as the increasingly poor decisions of a typical Korean family. Said family moves to the country and opens up a bed and breakfast, hoping to capitalize on a soon to be built road. Unfortunately for them, their first guest decides to shuffle off this mortal coil and commits suicide by room key. Fearing for their livelihood, the family opt to bury the body instead of alerting the authorities. This sets off a chain reaction of bumbling murders and farcical cover-ups as the family attempts to protect their business and maintain equilibrium.

Despite all the mayhem, this is a far more understated affair than Katakuris. It successfully mixes slapstick, black comedy, and familial drama, yet still manages to keep an even tone. Can it be viewed as a satiric take on conservative Korean family values? Sure, why not, but let's not impose limitations. I think the film's statement on family applies broadly across all cultures, which could account for the films international popularity.

Because when it comes down to it, it is the family that brings this film to life. They are played by a talented ensemble cast, including future stars Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho. Kang-ho would go on to star in several of Jee-woon's films, including The Foul King and The Good, The Bad and The Weird, while Min-sik appears in the director's current bloodbath, I Saw The Devil. But the film does not belong to them alone. Holding her own against these heavy weights may be the true star of the film, Na Moon-hee, who plays the Quiet Family's stalwart matriarch. If there is a center to this family, she is it.

There is also a subtle political subtext to the film. It takes place against the backdrop of a botched infiltration of South Korea by North Korean spies. I don't know if this was directly inspired by the 1996 Gangneung submarine incident, but I vaguely remember those events being similar. It just goes to show how the constant threat of the North must be permanently burned into the South Korean psyche. 

In the context of Jee-woon's current filmography, The Quiet Family is particularly interesting. The director has gone on to make a series of big budget, technically impressive genre films and it is easy to forget how good he is with the small moments. Will he ever revisit this more intimate style of filmmaking? Probably not anytime soon. He is currently gearing up to shoot his first English language film, one of those new-fangled Liam Neeson actioners called Last Stand.
Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor for He has also written for

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Tickets and full retro. info at BAM
J HurtadoFebruary 26, 2011 2:02 PM

I'm a huge fan of this film. I think Ji-Woon's first couple of comedies are highly underrated.

Geert JanFebruary 26, 2011 2:33 PM

I too saw Quiet Family after Happiness of the Katakuris (of which I'm a big fan), but I still loved it. Nice write up, I should revisit this modern classic as well some time.

Major_RagerFebruary 27, 2011 1:06 AM

Katakuris > Quiet Family, imho

Joshua ChaplinskyFebruary 28, 2011 2:16 PM