The Quiet Family
Kim Jee-Woon’s dark comedy from 1998 arrived pretty early in the Korean New Wave and was popular enough that it inspired a remake by the Japanese director Takashi Miike called The Happiness of the Katakuris. The storyline is simple: a family moves into a large house in the mountains with hopes and dreams of running their own hotel. They wait patiently for the occasional visitor, but the guests all die soon after arriving. As the bodies start to pile up, the family scrambles to protect themselves, their business, and their reputations. Despite the grim premise, the movie feels a little lightweight at times. It’s certainly a “smaller” film than the rest of Kim’s filmography. He is responsible for the Korean horror classic A Tale of Two Sisters (which also inspired a remake, the American The Uninvited), the silly, big-budget Manchurian “Western” The Good, The Bad, The Weird, as well as the gory and intense serial-killer movie I Saw the Devil. Kim is an impressive director who has shown a lot of variety in the types of movies he makes while proving he can make good use of a large budget. Like the work of fellow South Korean director Park Chan-wook, his movies are quirky, graphic, and visually stunning. Compared to his more recent work, however, The Quiet Family seems downright quaint. Another fun thing about the movie is that it features Song Kang-ho (The Host) and Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) very early in their acting careers.
Speaking of Song and Choi in early roles, they both appear again in 1999’s Shiri (or Swiri as it is sometimes spelled), the movie that has been most credited with kick-starting the New Wave. Director Kang Je-kyu would later make Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War, a film about the Korean War that I covered here earlier last month. Shiri, thankfully, is not as saccharine as Tae Guk Gi, but it is still just as offensively clichéd. North Korea’s best sniper (a woman!) is sent to South Korea as a spy to assassinate various government officials and orchestrate a large-scale terrorist attack. Meanwhile, a couple of South Korean agents investigate this situation. The movie tries to play coy about the identity of the female sniper, only showing her from behind or wearing sunglasses, but this is largely unnecessary because the big reveal is telegraphed from the very second she walks onscreen. Spoilers – she’s the fiancé of the guy who is investigating her! (I immediately recognized the actress, Kim Yun-jin, and spent a good portion of the movie trying to remember where I had seen her/ heard her voice before. When I figured it out, I nearly kicked myself: in America we know her best as Sun from Lost.) In any case, Shiri is a goofy but kind of fun action movie that was obviously influenced by Hollywood conventions, so it’s easy to see why it was popular, opening the door for better, more creative South Korean films to gain attention throughout the world.