Housemaid is sexy, stylish, pulsating
By Lee Hyo-won
It’s been half a century since Kim Ki-young’s ``The Housemaid’’ forever changed the course of Korean cinema, and the erotic thriller has once again emerged as an ``it’’ film since Martin Scorsese initiated its digital restoration for the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Im Sang-soo had a lot on his shoulders for the remake of the classic, and even more so since Jeon Do-yeon was cast in the title role. There were doubts. Would he allow the actress to shine and harness her gifts to artistic ends, as Lee Chang-dong did for her international breakthrough ``Secret Sunshine?’’ Im is a noted cineaste, but has been known for down-to-earth dramas like ``A Good Lawyer’s Wife’’ ― would things get lost in the expensively produced mise-en-scene?
Just because he added a splash of style doesn’t mean that he compromised substance. Like the original film, ``Housemaid’’ is a spatial, rather than temporal, film, and confined spaces give flight to characters’ ulterior motives. Im leaps nimbly over the traps of remakes, and movie buffs will have to specify the reinterpretation as ``Im’s Housemaid’’ rather than ``the remake.’’
He brings a sexy, seamlessly quilted film that throbs with intrigue, lively characters and finely crafted melodrama. It is little wonder why it was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Im calls himself ``the perennial aspiring artist rather than filmmaker,’’ and indeed, works of art are bound to resonate with not only the artsy intelligentsia but also with laymen; the new ``Housemaid’’ has great prospects at the box office, and the star-studded cast members giving their best doesn’t hurt either.
The film opens with a slice of contemporary Korea, and this is where we first meet Eun-i (Jeon), a bright and cheerful divorcee who tries her best to make ends meet in the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle.
Her college degree in children’s education lands her a job with an elite couple expecting twins, and she moves away from her ``natural habitat’’ to enter the exotic world of the privileged _ young, powerful businessman Hun (Lee Jung-jae gives his edgiest performance) and his ``Stepford wife’’ Hae-ra (Seo Woo, who established herself as an actress to look out for after ``Paju’’) are picture-perfect in their marble floored mansion.
Our heroine feels a bit awkward at first, wearing her designer maid outfit and serving vintage label wine, but she revels in her new environment as she establishes an immediate sense of affinity toward the family’s six-year-old daughter Na-mi, and soaks up the veteran housemaid Byeong-sik’s (Youn Yuh-jung) instructions like a sponge.
Eun-i is an enigmatic figure, more allegorical than human in all her natural grace and simplicity, which is something only an actress of Jeon’s caliber could portray convincingly. But Youn also shares the spotlight as the senior housemaid, by giving the film realistic edge and weight. One day Hun comes knocking at Eun-i's door, and she quietly succumbs to the temptation of this tall, handsome man with a knack for playing romantic piano pieces. The two continue their sexual relations in secret, but it isn’t long until Byeong-sik, the eyes and ears of the house, senses the affair.
Shortly thereafter, Byeong-sik also notices that Eun-i is pregnant ― something our protagonist isn’t aware of yet ― and informs Hae-ra’s mother Mi-heui (Park Ji-young). Hun’s infidelity provokes Hae-ra’s wrath, but she decides to feign oblivion to maintain her position, while Byeon-sik capitalizes on the situation with some side ``allowances’’ for spy work.
When Hun also tries to hush up the situation, however, Eun-i decides to fight back to protect her child.
In theaters May 13. Distibuted by Sidus FNH.