The Housemaid (2010)Unrated, contains strong sexual content, nudity. Dir: Im Sang-soo
This film opens today, January 28th, at CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles.
In this remake of a popular 1960 Korean film of the same name, Jeon Do-Yeon plays the titular character, Eun-yi, who is hired as an upper class family housemaid, tasked to take care of the family’s small daughter and her pregnant mother, Hae-ra (Seo Woo). Overseeing her efforts is Byung-sik (Yun Yeo-jung), an older housemaid who has been with the family for a long time and holds many secrets. Hoon (Lee Jung Jae), the master of the house, takes advantage of his social position and begins a secret affair with Eun-yi. Once it is discovered Eun-yi may be pregnant, Mi-hee, Hae-ra’s mother, plots a way to get rid of Eun-yi’s unborn baby despite Eun-yi’s wish to keep it and leave the house.
While the original film was a suspense thriller, this one isn’t quite as easy to pinpoint. While there are aspects of an erotic thriller, this film is partly a character study and a satire about class struggle. The film starts off with a random suicide as a girl jumps off a roof onto the busy street. This event isn’t really related to the main plot, unfortunately (which I admit would have been more interesting to follow up on). The scene portrays a cold, apathetic society as kids pull out their cell-phones to take a picture. Thus, the film starts off with a bit of a dark, off-kilter, cynical feel.
One of director Im Sang-soo’s previous films, The President’s Last Bang, was a satire focusing on the assassination of the dictatorial Korean president Park Chung Hee. While this film isn’t particularly comedic as that film, it has elements which seem heavy-handed and too outrageous to take seriously. As a thriller, it isn’t very convincing. One of the obvious problems is the portrayal of Eun-yi, who is shown here as sympathetic, naïve, and more of a victim, the opposite of the original. Unlike the rich folks, who eventually take advantage of her, she is likeable and kind.
Jeon Do-Yeon does well with the role that is written for her. As good and fine as she is in almost every role she plays, it truly would have been something special to see her play a really mean, nasty character-there is no doubt it would have been a wonderful departure and a suitable challenge for this talented actress. Then again, I suppose it’s like asking Natalie Portman to play Annie Wilkes from Misery. It’s just unimaginable. Would it have been cool to see? Of course. The real villain role is given to Hae-ra’s mother, Mi-hee. She plays the all-too-familiar “evil stepmother” role that appears to frequent Korean TV dramas as of late. Yun Yeo-jung is memorable as the older housemaid, Byung-sik, who remains constantly interesting and complex. Lee Jung Jae plays the rich master role with aplomb and brings subtlety to what is relatively a simplified and underused character.
The film has some great visuals, particularly the interiors of the mansion, full of deep reds and whites. The camera work is handheld and rougher near the beginning, particularly in the street scenes, and becomes more static and calculated as the film focuses more on the rich family. The film is sexually-charged and the seedy nature of the relationship between Eun-yi and Hoon, along with their motives, is never quite explained.
The story is overly simple, I felt, and I expected more twists, more believable characterization, more thrills, or something. The problem with satire is that it often pulls the audience away from fully engaging with the story or the characters, an issue that doesn’t particularly work in a thriller. Perhaps it might have been better if this had not been a remake. I would guess that the fear of comparison with the original could bring a director to go the complete opposite direction in the newer film or try to turn what may be a simple story into high art (and appear intelligent). I just wish they’d just make it better by changing the name, the plot, and…well, simply being a whole new film. I suppose on the positive side, a remake does introduce a new generation of audiences to check out the original. In this particular case, I’d love to see the original just to see how much better it is than this film.
My Rating: ** out of ****