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Fox Family, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Remember, kids - circus families want to eat your livers!"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: "The Fox Family" vexes me; I'm not sure who the audience for it is. On the one hand, it certainly feels like a kids' or family film with its songs and fanciful story about a family of foxes wishing to be human. But how many kids' movies would have a subplot about a serial killer? Maybe it's not really for kids... Or western kids and/or their parents are just wimps. Still, I'm not quite sure who out there is going to really LOVE this movie.

A "kumiho" is a sort of fox spirit in Korean mythology, and is the name a group of them take when they assume human form. They're a family - father (Joo Hyeon), son (Ha Jeong-woo), older daughter (Park Si-yeon), younger daughter (Koo Joo-yeon) - and they've assumed human form, posing as a circus until a once-in-a-century eclipse when they can become human for real - if they each eat a human liver. Meanwhile, a grifter (Park Joon-gyoo) stumbles upon their camp looking for a spot to hide from some mobsters he owes money, and takes an interest in the older sister, and there's a serial killer preying on women with small dogs - the kind whose livers the younger sister finds particularly delicious - and a sad-sack detective (Yongnyeo Seon-woo) is on the case.

It's a bit tough to connect with the Kumihos in part because they really do feel non-human. The writing has them kind of oblivious to the everyday world, and their circus act scares children in a hilariously bloody way. There's a very peculiar amorality to them when they talk about their plans to kill people and eat their livers in order to become human; they just don't give any thought at all to how this is really would not be a particularly auspicious start to their lives as humans. I'm also a little unclear as to how long the family has been in human guise; sometimes, the subtitled dialog makes it sound like it's been for a long time, although they seem kind of ignorant of human society to have been around that long.

The cast makes them enjoyably off-kilter, though. Joo Hyeon is the sort of super-curmudgeonly father that seems to show up in Korean films a lot - parents who berate their kids as much as this in Western movies seem to come off worse, although he does get a nice scene toward the end where he gets to speak to why being human is something animals and spirits aspire to, despite all our faults. Ha Jeong-woo is the kooky one, funnier for how he is so ignorant of human nature that he's got no idea that he's the dorky one; he honestly thinks he's as sexy as his sister. Said sister is played by a former Miss Korea, and Park Si-yeon nails making the character (1) sexy, (2) totally unaware of how to make use of being so hot, but (3) really eager to. She's a bunch of fun to watch. Similarly fun is young Koo Joo-yeon, who's about ten years old but has this great predatory air about her, with a wide-eyed stare that says that she, at least, is certainly thinking of eating you. I wouldn't be surprised if she's a gymnast or dancer of some sort; it's a delight to watch her move. Park Joon-gyoo starts out as kind of scuzzy but does make the audience believe that his character genuinely grows to love the older sister. I also kind of dig the way Yongnyeo Seon-woo plays the cop with all the "eccentric detective that people underestimate" quirks, except that he is actually kind of dim.

The movie they're in is just bizarre, even for its premise. I don't just mean the musical numbers; they're fun and bouncy, hummable even if you don't know Korean, even if one or two of them kind of bewilder me. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the riot cops and the homeless people coming to audition for the circus breakdancing together, but, seriously, how did the movie get there? Ditto for the clan's first circus performance, which involves ripping off their limbs (with blood spurting everywhere) to try to entertain kids. Then there's the serial killer plot and its resolution, which I can't describe both because of the potential spoilers and because, even with the stuff above, it kind of beggars belief.

Of course, I love the crazy. But in between the crazy stuff, director Lee Hyung-gon and writers Jeon Hyeon-jin and Park Eun-ho fill the movie with things that are either dull, strange but not amusing, or just plain mean. There are moments of great fun in The Fox Family, but the things that separate them can be a real chore to get through. The film has an ugly disdain for some of its characters, and that can make for a tough wait for the next part which is fun insanity.

As much as my opinion wound up fairly mixed, I wouldn't mind giving it another chance, with the understanding that, despite the description, this probably isn't something for kids. I don't know who it's for, exactly, but a movie with this much whimsy will certainly find some fans.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16279&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/05/07 15:13:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2007 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Lee Hyung-gon

Written by
  Jeon Hyeon Jin
  Park Eun Ha

Cast
  Joo Hyeon
  Park Joon Gyoo
  Park Si Yeon
  Ha Jeong Woo
  Koo Joo Yeon



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