Remember The Addams Family? That cartoonish clan of freaks and outcasts who lived on the border of normal society? They may have had some strange customs but they always stuck together - each family member proudly individual but also a valued part of the group. Now South Korea boasts The Fox Family, a similarly weird bunch with a Moulin Rouge-esque flair for the theatrical, who are forced to stick together because of their unique differences.
But the Foxes want to be normal, everyday humans. They really are foxes who have come down from the mountains and taken human form in order to fulfil a prophecy, one based on the Korean myth of the kumiho, or the nine-tailed fox. They can remain human if they eat a human liver during a lunar eclipse, which comes along every 1000 years. As you’d probably expect from a Korean film, that last little detail makes everything a little more macabre than your usual fairy tale involving enchanted fluffy animals.
The family are led by the widowed father (Ju Hyeon), who has them performing in a circus troupe that frequently splatters its audience with fake blood - Wednesday Addams would certainly approve. He tries to get his buffoonish son (Ha Jung-woo) and sexy daughter (former model Park Si-yeon) into the dating game as a way of finding suitable human sacrifices, which leads to some of the film’s more slapstick moments. But only the latter manages to score with a seedy pervert who reluctantly agrees to help them recruit further candidates from the fringes of society.
Meanwhile, the youngest daughter (Ko Ju-yeon) keeps to herself and may or may not be the brutal murderer of a local girl. A Columbo-style detective certainly suspects one of them but his sit-and-watch brand of police work is merely a distraction to the central plot, a plot that is already a little thin and from which director Lee Hyung-gon often gets sidetracked. As he circles around different genres and tones - the film is interspersed with some random, foot-tapping, musical interludes - it frequently feels like a Tim Burton mash-up.
Inevitably, the Foxes discover that the secret to becoming human isn’t as simple as ripping out someone’s liver. It’s about love and understanding, the bonds that form when you get to know and care for people. As they extend their family to include those that have been neglected by their own, the real transformation occurs. But it is perhaps because it’s such a universal theme that Lee seems uninterested in exploring it in any depth. He’s much more concerned with mastering the visuals; the sets, costumes and lighting are all wonderfully decadent while his framing and comic timing seem inspired by a crazed Scooby-Doo episode. In a way, the film is incredibly childlike, a classic fable on what it means to be human, yet it also attempts to be dark and sexy without being explicit. It amuses with oddball humour - where else will you see break-dancing riot police? - and the ‘Wonder Woman’ finale saves the day, but ultimately it rarely gets under the fur of its intriguing characters.