Director Im Sang-soo’s ( “A Good Lawyer’s Wife”) remake of the late director Kim Ki-young’s classic 1960 original “The Housemaid” has been the subject of enormous anticipation since the beginning of its production. Kim Ki-young’s original was a public and box office sensation back in the 60’s. The film influenced generations of Korean filmmakers as well as Roman Polansky and Michael Haneke. Im Sang-soo’s highly stylized revision of the classic almost fifty years later is a moralistic critique of Korean upper classes.
The film is an uncompromising fable about human frailty and savagery. Sang-soo tells the story of Eun-yi, an innocent young woman hired by a rich family to take care of the family’s small daughter and her pregnant mother Hae-ra. The master of the house takes advantage of Eun-yi and she becomes pregnant. An older maid reports the affair to Hae-ra’s mother Mi-hee. Mi-hee and Hae-ra try to force Eun-yi to have an abortion. Eun-yi pleas to let her keep the baby. They wouldn’t budge. Destroyed physically and mentally fragile Eun-yi has an abortion. Forced abortion turns Eun-yi’s fragile mental condition for the worth and she decided to get revenge on the family.
The film is a radical fusion of form and content. Magnificently inventive “The Housemaid” is a stylistic marvel which explores the expressive mechanisms of cinema. The narrative structure of the plot is frequently interrupted by the characteristically New Wave attempts to subvert the expectations of the viewers with ambiguity, surprise and abrupt changes in space, time and mood of the piece. Like Godard, Sang-soo never allows us to forget that we are watching a film. We are never immersed in the illusion of a comfortably unfolding story. Instead, Sang-soo disrupts his narrative by dislocating any sense of progressive action. The film is rather a collection of mesmerizing and visceral scenes.
Despite its stylistic flourishes, “ The Housemaid” touches audiences with the poignant depiction of the relationships between the poor young women and their masters. Sang-soo notes :” These women don’t know for the life of them that they are the real housemaids. Without knowing this, they pass down their housemaid-nature to their daughters and their granddaughters. How sad and horrific…” The film embodies director’s vision of individual human isolation and helplessness in a brutal environment.
“The Housemaid” shows raw unspeakable cruelty that seems impossible in contemporary society. Sang-soo’s cinema resembles a subtler mode of horror film. Sang-soo's film poses the thorny philosophical and ethical question of how far can one be pushed before reaching a breaking point.
About the director:
Im Sang-soo gained widespread attention from both critics and audiences with his breakthrough debut “Girls’ Night Out”. His next film “Tears” was about wayward teenagers. It struck a chord in the heart of Korean society. He further gained recognition with “A Good Lawyer’s Wife”, which competed for the best picture at the Venice Film Festival, drawing attention to his sharp directorial style. In 2004, Im Sang-soo returned with a unique analysis of modern Korean history in “The President’s Last Bang”. The film was invited to Cannes the following year, reinforcing his international reputation.
“The Housemaid” opens in Los Angeles today at the CGV Cinemas in Korea town.