The Housemaid

Dir: Im Sang-soo

Rating: 1.7/5.0

IFC Films

106 Minutes

A remake of the 1960 film of the same name, writer/director Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid is an overblown, wannabe Hitchcockian erotic thriller set in the opulent world of upper crust Korean entitlement. Thrust into this cloistered enclave is Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), an avowedly innocent young woman who is hired as housemaid for a rich husband and pregnant wife and as nanny for their young daughter. Trying to have it both ways, Song-soo seems to have wanted to make both a lurid, intentionally controversial shocker and a biting indictment of entrenched class disparities, yet The Housemaid has all the bite of a shampoo commercial and about as much dramatic appeal. The characters and scenarios are ridiculous (but not ridiculous enough to be any fun), the erotic content is nearly nil and the ending, although approaching a sort of simulacrum of luridness, is actually just eye-rollingly absurd. By the time the strange, sub-Lynchian credit-sequence had rolled around I wasn’t sure what I had witnessed: was The Housemaid bad because it was trying to be a fun piece of camp nonsense, or was it bad because it had failed to do so?

It starts off promisingly enough, with a sequence stylistically unlike the rest of the film. In a series of handheld, distorted shots of nighttime Seoul, Sang-soo’s camera picks out from the crowd a series of fleeting, documentary-style portraits of female workers – food vendors, mostly, all hardworking proletariat types. One of these is Eun-yi, who works with her mother in a noodle shop. Nearby a woman leaps to her death, and, foreshadowing some mental instability to come, Eun-yi insists on returning to the scene the next morning to view the bloody stains on the pavement.

Byeong-sik (Yoon Yeo-jeong), a stern head-of-staff for the wealthy couple, approaches Eun-yi with an offer for full-time employment. She immediately accepts, and, in a reversal from the previous film, is almost immediately seduced by the callow, arrogant father (in the original, the housemaid character was the seducer). His pretty princess of a wife, Hae Rae, pregnant with twins and ever-petulant, is at first unaware of her husband’s duplicity, treating her new housemaid less as an employee than as a favored pet. Both she and her husband (when not tiptoeing into her room at night) treat Eun-yi as if she barely existed. They fail to acknowledge her presence in a room unless in need of her services, and in general are nearly a parody of rich assholes. The pair’s precocious five year-old daughter Nami (Ahn Seo-hyeon) echoes the class-based arrogance of her parents. When Eun-yi complements her on her politeness, Nami replies that “Father says to always be polite – it may seem kind, but it’s really just putting myself first.”

Byeong-sik has been with the family a long time and knows the score. When Eun-yi starts showing signs of being pregnant, the older woman immediately brings the news to Hae-ra’s evil mother-in-law (Park Ji-young). After a ladder-based “accident” fails to end the problem that Eun-yi represents, Hae-ra and her mother resort to attempts at poison in order to make sure that there aren’t any inconvenient heirs to the family fortune claiming inheritance anytime soon. The story in general continues down this soap opera path, piling attempts at suspense upon stabs at tension, throwing in a few sex scenes here and there to keep things sleazy. All of it ends in a fiery conclusion that fails in every conceivable respect; being neither shocking, nor tragic, nor even a little bit of fun.

The performances are for the most part bland and uninspired, Jeon Do-yeon most definitely included. Her housemaid character is at times appealing in a general, sexy/innocent sort of way, but mostly she is just yawn-inducingly bland. The same goes for the other leads, with the exception of Yoon Yeo-jeong’s bitter old pro. Some of her reaction shots are very amusing, and her general tone of aggrieved suffering is quite effective. But she is not nearly enough to save a film billed as a “sexy thriller” whose sexiness is debatable and whose only thrilling aspect is seeing how long you can watch it without falling asleep.

by Shannon Gramas

  • Revisit: All About My Mother

    All About My Mother is one of Almodóvar's most gentle films - despite the melodrama, despi…
  • Revisit: Tree of Life

    The Tree of Life transmutes the notion of humanity's fall from grace into a cosmic imperat…
  • Revisit: Shoah

    Can art redeem the past? Can the accumulated weight and pressure of history be transfigure…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Revisit: All About My Mother

All About My Mother is one of Almodóvar's most gentle films - despite the melodrama, despi…