Seen in Jeonju

The Housemaid (2010)

13th May 2010


After months of waiting, The Housemaid starring Jeon Do-yeon and Lee Jeong-gae has finally arrived in theaters. I am happy to report that it was worth the wait.  I am also happy to say that this version of the 1960 film, is more than an updated rehash. There have been many recent remakes of classic films such as King Kong, The Poseiden Adventure, The Exorcist, etc., where the only differences between the original and the new lie in flashier special effects. While the new Housemaid maintains some of the character motives and events found Kim Ki-yeong’s story, director Im Sang-soo adds some new characters, heightens some of the existing motivations to new levels and does away with many parts that are associated with the original. Looking for rats popping out of cupboards? Then go back and watch the 60s version. Im doesn’t put a single rodent in this movie–although their absense is more than made up for by the presence of several especially vile human rats.

One of the biggest differences for me between the 2010 and 1960 versions is in the reversal of where my sympathies fell. In the 1960s movie, I was horrified by the actions of the maid as played by Lee Eun-shim. She was odd right from the beginning and there would have been no way that I would have hired her to work for me, let alone live in my house. The moment she caught that first rat and her strange behavior then would have made me fire her long before she could be shown where the rat poison was kept.  But Jeon Do-yeon’s character, Eun-yi, is not like that at all. There is an innocence about her and I found myself rooting for her throughout the film.

Perhaps I was rooting for her because all the other characters are so despicable. The master of the house, Hoon, is far removed from Kim Jin-gyu’s indecisive and emasculated Dong-shik from 1960. Everything and everyone in the house belong to him. The entire house is a reflection of his ego and it seem built to fit his needs. It certainly has no place for the children he professes to love. His wife, Hae-ra, is addicted to the luxury but matches Dong-shik’s wife only in that regard. While the latter worked herself into a stupor trying to earn more money, Hae-ra has never done anything for herself. Even everyday acts, such as washing her hair, are handled by her maids.

One of those maids is a character not found in the 60s version. Yoon Yeo-jeong plays the senior housekeeper/cook who sees everything and knows all the secrets of the household. Yoon does an excellent job in this role and I think she deserves a Best Supporting Actress award for her performance. Another new character is Hae-ra’s mother. She oozes ambition and greed and will stop at nothing to ensure her daughters place as Hoon’s wife is secure thus cementing her own status vicariously. This woman is evil –and she is both horrifying and fascinating to watch in action.

I won’t say too much more about the movie as it just opened today, but I do have to comment on the set. That house was a work of art and is almost a character itself. But I found myself being drawn to objects in the house–especially the lights. I kept thinking throughout the movie, “Where can I buy those __________?” And that chandelier! When I got hope I dd a quick internet search and found that articles had already been written about it (namely how much it cost). The price was  tens of thousands (USD)—Oh well, it was too big for my house anyway…

The Housemaid is in theaters now in Korea as well as playing at Cannes.  It is an excellent film from its opening to the bizarrely beautiful final scene. It is a ‘must-see’. Watch it.

3 Responses to “The Housemaid (2010)”

  1. ed Says:

    Sounds intriguing, Tom. There are mixed reactions out there as you know, and it’s always interesting to read people’s defense of their opinions. Although I think pieces like Derek Elley’s tend to downplay the complexity in the original when propping up Im’s new take on the story. Next to each other, it may be tempting to say they’re a perfect inversion of each other. But I recall Kim’s original is so fascinating because as it unfolds, people and events aren’t always what they seem – occurring with a spontaneous volatility that suggests Kim & co. didn’t anticipate how richly their characters and enclosed world have become. For example the husband seems weak compared to LJJ on the surface, but he always freely exerts his male authority as husband and teacher over his wife and students. It is a complex work because at various points we see Kim jin-gyu is both emboldened by patriarchy-nouveau riche that benefits him, as he is enslaved by the frustrations of maintaining it. So is his wife enslaved by her lower position in the sexual order, yet using it as a tool to guilt-trip her husband. The Maid’s grotesque presence comes off more like stylized thrills of a self-professed madcap thriller, and she is arguably presented just like the rich sees her as is JDY (so naive to be toyed with then thrown away.) Yet this freaky maid is just as drawn to the middle class dream as Kim jin-gyu’s family: she’s quickly made meek and guileless when promised love and new status (which is how the staircase fall came about.) IMHO there’s constant, restless shuffle among the husband, wife and maid in the original, such that they’re not fixed victim/victimizer of each other.

  2. ed Says:

    Also, just to speculate purely from reading the reviews(!), how Im develops his setup may be better compared to Claude Chabrol’s treatment in La Ceremonie (1995) than to the original Housemaid.

  3. TheDoug Says:

    I’ll assume that this remake will eventually get an American distributor at some point in time after its Cannes debut. Thanks for the detailed review Tom.