The Housemaid

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The Housemaid


A powerful and oppulent remake of a Korean classic.

Lee (played by Do-yeon Jeon) is a poor worker who labours in a restaurant kitchen and shares a small cramped apartment with her best friend. She is hired to become the nanny for a high powered attorney and his wife, and goes to live in their opulent house. But with his wife heavily pregnant with twins, Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) is forced to look elsewhere to fulfil his sexual needs, and before long he is spending far too much time in Lee’s bed.

This arouses the ire of his both wife Hae-ra (Seo Woo) and her cold, domineering and resentful mother (Park Ji-Young). The two women coldly conspire to destroy Lee. Her only ally in the house is the formidable veteran cook Mrs Cho (Youn Yeo-Jeong), who is initially resentful of Lee’s easy going presence. Something evil lies beneath the glossy surface of this household.
The Housemaid is a slick, stylish and erotic remake of the highly regarded 1960 Korean film from Ki-Young Kim. I haven’t seen the original, which screened in MIFF alongside this remake, so I cannot compare the two films. However, from most reports director Im Sang-soo has changed the tone of the material and reimagined it as a tale of obsession, lust and sexual betrayal. Apparently, the original was also driven by the psychological struggle between the two scheming women.

The film maintains that eerie and unsettling quality we have come to expect from Korean cinema of late, especially with recent psychological thrillers like the superb Mother. Sang-soo handles the material with a sense of restraint and he saturates it with a palpable sense of unease and suspense as it builds towards a Grand Guignol-like finale. Sang-soo studied sociology, and the film’s rich subtext examines the class structure of contemporary Korea, and the gulf that exists between the rich and the poor.

The Housemaid is an impeccably mounted production, and well acted by the cast. Do-yeon Jeon is a standout as the vulnerable and naïve Lee, who is easily seduced by the powerful Hoon and his opulent and lavish lifestyle. The film also boasts superb cinematography and production design, which beautifully capture the Hoon’s comfortable lifestyle. But there is something cold and calculating about The Housemaid which may alienate some audiences.