A sumptuous remake of one of the most famous pre Hallyu Korean films, this is a classy and cruel tale. Whilst it takes the idea of the original film (which I will also be looking at this week), it turns everything on its head, changing the victims around.
“The Housemaid” tells the story of a young woman (Jeon Do-yeon) who starts working for a very rich couple as a Housemaid/Nanny. The couple have a daughter and have twins on the way. She is aided by a somewhat world weary senior housemaid (Yoon Yeo-jeong). The husband (Lee Jung-jae) eventually works his way in to the young woman’s bed. Then she gets pregnant, and things take a turn for the worse – the machinations of the super-rich (including the super-evil Mother) play havoc on the life of the young Housemaid.
Now it is billed as an erotic thriller – but it really is not very erotic at all. Yes, there is a fair bit of nudity, and some awkward and stylised sex scenes (more than most Korean films I have seen), this is not highbrow titillation.
Im Sang-soo is a Director I like – the year started with his impressive “President’s Last Bang”, and he shows a number of techniques during the film. The first sequence is almost documentary like, the bulk of the film is cold yet gorgeous, and he even finds time to give us a surreal little end piece.
However, the film does struggle in some of the non-visual aspects. It terribly shallow – I think the moral of the tale is little more than “rich people are selfish and bad”. Even when we gain sympathy for (the Father and the little girl) for some of the characters, it is taken away VERY quickly. This might be because of some of the politics behind the film, it looks like the original screenwriter left the project part-way through the production, and even though I am dependant on subtitles, the spoken aspects of the script seem weak, with very little dialogue actually appearing revealing rather than expository. There are interesting scenes, but I never really got inside these peoples heads in any kind of three dimensional way.
Yoon Yeo-jeong as the Older Housekeeper is very good – at first she seems cold and implicit in the actions of the family – until you see that she hates her life of servitude, that obviously she has been compromised by the family (her son has become a Public Prosecutor, and the inference is that the family have assisted in some way). As she sees the way the young housekeeper is treated, she changes, becoming almost motherly. It is subtle, but good.
Most credit will go to Jeon Do-yeon, I know she is a superb actress, and she does not let me down here. But, as with the other characters, I never feel I really know her motivations. We learn so little about her, that it is hard to get any empathy with her situation. I have no idea of her characters age or her past. All I know is that she is poor, her mother is dead and that she has a very good friend.
The music haunted me for days – It was reminding me of another film – and only now I realise it was the non-dialogued scenes in “In The Mood For Love”. I am not sure this is deliberate, but these quiet scenes are actually the best, possibly because of the memories of the other film they invoked.
In the end, this one does get Recommended, as it is a lovely but fundamentally flawed piece of cinema. I don’t think you will get any great insight into Korean Society from it, but it is lovely to look at and contains at least two excellent performances. Will it be as feted as the film from which it too its inspiration in 50 years time? Unlikely.