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The Fox Family (2006)
Director: Lee Hyung-gon

review by Max Cairnduff

The Fox Family (aka: Gumiho gajok) is a Korean comedy-horror musical, and possibly the most insane film I've seen in years. It's also huge fun, inventive, macabre and well worth catching. A curious cross between The Addams Family and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Fox Family concerns a family of four 'gumiho' - fox spirits - who have come out of the mountains for a once in a thousand years opportunity to become humans. To become human each must eat a fresh human liver, therefore they need to find and kill four people and they have to kill them at just the right moment, which is in only 30 days time. Unfortunately, the family of four are quite unprepared for the problems of blending into human society.

The family consist of the father, played by Joo Hyun, his beautiful daughter played by Park Si-yeon, his son played by Ha Jeong-woo and his youngest daughter played by Ko Joo-yeon - the least human of the lot of them and with an unfortunate appetite for pet dogs... All four play their parts to the hilts, embracing the sheer ludicrousness of their characters and the plot. It's worth noting, however, that they don't sing as well as they act, Joo Hyun in particular taking the first song of the film and absolutely murdering it, his terrible singing itself being part of the joke.

Deciding to attract humans to them, they form a circus troupe, but sadly misjudge the appetite of human children for shows featuring dismemberment and spurting blood. Dejected, they decide to go out and hunt humans down, the eldest daughter pole-dancing on the underground to lure men back to their lair, the father and son trying to pick up lonely women at dances, all of them comically overdoing it with their utter lack of social skills or ability to judge how to act in a remotely normal fashion.

Matters take a more hopeful turn when the daughter manages to capture Gi-dong, a conman who seduces young women then films himself having sex with them with a hidden camera, later selling the tapes for profit. Brilliantly played by the exceptionally funny and rubber-faced Park Joon-gyu, Gi-dong agrees to help the hapless Fox family find three other humans to feed on, come the time, so keeping himself alive at least until the big night. Meanwhile, an obsessed policeman played by Park Cheol-min is convinced that one of the family is behind a recent spate of axe murders...

As is customary in films like this, the monsters aren't the really inhuman ones. Linked by bonds of family, love, a desire to help each other (as well as a desire to eat human liver), they bicker and fight but generally try to treat each other with a small degree of kindness. The humans in the film by contrast feature Gi-dong, in some senses clearly more of a predator than the fox spirits, a mysterious prostitute-murdering axe-man, and a motley assortment of circus recruits I'll describe in a moment and generally, when encountered, none of them show much by way of empathy or friendship to anyone. Here, as in The Addams Family, we are the true monsters and here again the real message is that being human is itself valuable enough, one does not need to be normal to be worthwhile.

The film is blackly comic. Gi-dong tries to entice people to join the circus, with a view to them being eaten (perhaps even instead of him) come the day. This leads to an extraordinary dance sequence which starts with a group of homeless people being lured towards their probable deaths, and which ends in a break-dancing dance-off between rioters and riot police. Another musical highlight features a singing montage where the hapless Foxes and their captive conman try to make money, despite their complete lack of any relevant or useful skills, working in massage parlours, building sites and hostess bars. The sheer inventiveness of it all is remarkable, it's funny, at times very well danced and while the singing is almost always fairly terrible, that somehow doesn't really matter. This is after all a film with song lyrics such as "I know now that love is sweeter than blood," it's not trying (thankfully) to be Andrew Lloyd Webber.

When Gi-dong finally does manage to recruit three new members of the circus, they turn out to be a man suffering from a fatal consumptive illness and a wonder woman fixation, a very ugly girl who is determined to commit suicide, and a dying, demented and rather cruel old woman. Cleverly, the film sets up all three as people who are dying anyway or might well be glad to die, creating a genuine doubt about whether any of them will make it through the film with their livers intact.

As is typical of Korean cinema, The Fox Family is in places extremely gory, but it is also often hilarious. The songs, the dance routines, the bizarre situations as they seek to keep their pathetic trio of new recruits alive until the time they're due to kill them, it's all very well judged and in the most appalling taste imaginable. It even contains at one point an extended sequence which is a direct reference to classic horror film Don't Look Now. This is a deeply silly film, distinctly Korean in tone, and while I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed such films as The Host, I'd also suggest it for those who simply enjoy comedy in questionable taste. Being in Korean, for a western audience it naturally doesn't have the memorable songs that The Rocky Horror Picture Show did, and it plainly does owe a considerable debt to The Addams Family, but that's no bad parentage to have and I'll be looking out for future Lee Hyeong-gon films with interest.

The Fox Family comes with trailers for Hansel & Gretel (an interesting looking Korean horror film), and God Man Dog (a Taiwanese art house film), but the version I saw came otherwise without extras.

The Fox Family on DVD

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The Fox Family

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