The Fox Family

The Fox Family


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

According to Korean legend, kumiho are shape-shifting foxes that must feed on humans (and more specifically on their livers) to become fully human themselves. These vulpine vampires have already featured in South Korea's first film to employ CGI, Park Heon-su's fantasy romance The Fox With Nine Tails (1994), as well as in the Korean teledrama Forbidden Love (2004) – but nothing quite prepares viewers for the unhinged craziness of Lee Hyung-gon's The Fox Family, whose whimsical way with genre makes it as protean in form as its central characters.

If the setting of the opening scene – a dustblown roadside stop, complete with tumbleweeds, a barking dog and jangly guitar on the soundtrack - suggests a full-blown western, it fast becomes apparent that the Fox family (along with the film to which they have given their title) is just passing through this oater milieu in search of directions. "Where can we find a lot of humans?", the family patriarch (Joo Hyeon) asks – and as he drives on, we notice that the barking has stopped. "I told you not to eat dogs," dad tells his cute-as-a-button - and now conspicuously bloody-toothed - younger daughter (Koo Joo-yeon), while his clown-suited son (Ha Seong-woo) and nubile elder daughter (former Miss Korea Park Si-yeon) look on blankly.

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After a brief credit sequence (set to a jaunty two-step), the film shifts into the lurid generic territory of the giallo. In a darkened Seoul alleyway, an attractive young woman with a small dog is murdered by an unseen stalker. The parody of slasher tropes here is close enough to the 'real' thing to be taken seriously – until, that is, we see the investigating detective (Youngnyeo Seon-woo) arrive on the following morning and absent-mindedly use the victim's severed hand to scratch his head and even pick his nose.

Cut to scene three, and the Foxes perform a series of grand guignol circus routines in which the elder sister showers blood over the spectators from her (seemingly) dismembered arms – in a sequence that references both Alejandro Jodorowky's Santa Sangre (1989) and Barry Sonnenfeld's The Addams Family (1991). The family is genuinely puzzled when their young audience flees the tent in horror. After all, isn't everybody supposed to love a circus?

In their guise as big top performers, the four Foxes have come down from the mountains hoping to find four human victims who can furnish them with livers during a crucial once-in-a-millennium lunar eclipse to take place in a month's time – which is their one and only chance at becoming fully human. Yet in the 30 days that follow, this family of hopeless misfits has a lot to learn about what humans are, do and want - and they must also deal with a spate of axe murders that keeps leading the suspicious detective right back to their door.

Given their own utter cluelessness about modern living and human relations, they invest all their hope for salvation and metamorphosis in Ki-dong (Park Joon-gyoo), a sleazy, double-dealing scammer whose inevitable (and decidedly impure) interest in the elder sister is not just eagerly welcomed by her, but also actively encouraged (much to his surprise) by the whole family. Ki-dong agrees, under duress, to help them find three additional victims – a Wonder Woman-obsessed invalid, a suicidal woman, and an abandoned granny – but keeping this deathbound trio alive for a month might well prove even harder than killing them when the time is up.

The Fox Family has it all: carnivalesque comedy, tacky romance, supernatural horror, social satire, Argento-tinged mystery, acrobatic thrills and even a car chase, all wrapped up in a slew of, yes, cheesy song-and-dance numbers. Everything here is manic and mercurial.

The film's visual palette is a strange brew of the noirish and the glaring. The characters (whether human or kumiho) are grotesque schlubs straight from the Coen brothers' school of casting. A violent clash between riot police and protesters is figured as a breakdancing stand-off. Illness, suicide, neglect and death are presented as the butts of jokes. And while, on their bumbling path to becoming human, the foxy foursome may learn overtly cloying lessons about the power of love, the meaning of sacrifice and the value of life, their non-canine counterparts offer up a decidedly less noble vision of humanity, in all its venality, spite and selfishness.

"Is that what a real family is?" asks Ki-dong, as he surveys footage he has recorded of the Foxes at home. The hidden camera that he uses to try to capture the Foxes' monstrousness on film is, ironically enough, the same camera with which the con artist used to make sex tapes of unsuspecting human pick-ups in dingy motel rooms – but in fact what his footage of the Foxes reveals is piety, solidarity and commitment within a tight-bound unit. So for all their sexual forwardness, perverse appetites and homicidal intent, the Foxes' cohesive family values hold up a mirror that makes the real humans they encounter seem bestial by comparison.

This, it would appear, is the film's real point. Look past all the madcap entertainment of its presentation, and The Fox Family offers a vision of contemporary urban life that plays on every sense of the word cynical (originally from the Greek for 'canine'). For in this colourful dog-eat-dog world, we are all at best half-breeds rather than fully human.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2009
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The Fox Family packshot
A vulpine family are hunting human liver with a view to transforming into people themselves.
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Director: Lee Hyung-gon

Writer: Jeon Hyeon-jin, Park Eun-ho

Starring: Joo Hyeon, Ha Jeong-woo, Park Si-yeon, Koo Joo-yeon, Park Joon-gyoo, Yongnyeo Seon-woo, Kim Hee-ra, Park Cheol-min, Woo Hyeon, Yun Hyeon-suk

Year: 2006

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: South Korea


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