Some films defy description. Lee Hyun-gon’s Fox Family is one such film. Fans of Takashi Miike’s Happiness of the Katakuris will know what to expect - a quirky black comedy blessed with song and dance routines. Fox Family tells the tail (sorry, that’s the first and last of the fox puns) of a family of foxes who want to become human, and once every thousand years they get their chance. The only catch being, they have to sacrifice a human being in order to become human themselves, and if they eat that persons liver their dreams will take shape.
Throw in a dim-witted cop who suspects them of murder and a sprinkling of human sacrifices that prove harder to keep alive then keep dead, and what you have is a curious blend of genres that will undoubtedly find an audience on western shores. The only question being, how many fox loving, karaoke dwelling, song and dance fanatics are there in the world?
Masquerading as a circus troupe, our family's father (Joo Hyeon), son (Ha Jeong-woo), older daughter (Park Si-yeon) and younger daughter (Koo Joo-yeon) have come down from the hills in order to fulfil their dreams of humanity. To do that they moonlight as circus entertainers, hoping to pull in crowds of unsuspecting victims. The only problem being, they’re not very good at it. One noteworthy scene early on finds the naïve family of four scaring their young visitors with a routine that is not only utterly hilarious, but also incredibly gruesome. There are times during Fox Family when you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re watching the latest from Sushi Typhoon. Director Lee Hyun-gon doesn’t have a problem with mixing it up a bit, such is the random goofiness on display here.
Joo Hyeon makes for a traditional Korean father type, the kind of peculiar father figure we see time and time again in modern family drama. The Host, The Quiet Family and now Fox Family, they all utilise similar styles of comedy with identikit character quirks. Ha Jeong-woo is good as the misguided son, but it’s the two girls that fare best. Park Si-yeon is not only beautiful, but also incredibly clueless when it comes to matters of the heart. A situation that throws up some laugh out loud curve balls as her relationship with a would be sacrifice - played with infectious charm by Park Joon-gyoo - blossoms, care of some well timed comedy and the occasional romantic ditty.
Park Si-yeon is charming enough, but it’s Koo Joo-yeon who steals the show with a bewitching performance that oozes personality and magic. Clearly the smartest of the foxes, here is a girl that manages to steal the film from under the feet of her co-stars, despite an alarming attraction to dog meat. The supporting players are all pretty memorable too, and giving them suicidal tendencies throws up some entertaining dilemmas for the foxes as they attempt to keep their sacrifices alive until the big night arrives.
Then we have the dance numbers. The songs are actually rather catchy, even if you don’t speak a word of Korean, and though the dance routines are nowhere near as inventive as the ones that grace Miike’s effort, they do possess a playful bounciness that is incredibly engaging. If nothing else, the complete and utter randomness of it all should be enough to keep you hooked. The serial killer subplot takes us to a darker place than expected (all the more welcome in my eyes), and the CGI enhanced ending is fairly bleak if you compare it to the playful dance routines that came before.
Fox Family is an acquired taste for sure, my girlfriend left the room very early on; probably heading upstairs to pack her suitcase and leave. It’s hard to explain what's so appealing about a film that throws serial killers, foxes that want to be human, break dance routines and suicidal sacrifices into the blender, especially when they risk the chance of breaking into song at any given minute. Perhaps it’s the winning performances, perhaps it’s the catchy tunes pumping out of your television speakers, or maybe it’s the fact that we’re all a little bit strange after all.
If I had to choose between the two, I would opt for Miike’s Happiness Of The Katakuris every time. As a companion piece however, Fox Family is just the ticket. So if like me you have been waiting for someone to make a movie about singing foxes with murder in mind, then look no further. Give into curiosity and welcome the Fox Family into your home. But I'd keep them away from the family dog if I were you. AW