1st March 2011
Last week, KTV aired the movie The Beautiful Maid starring Shin Seong-il and Uhm Aeng-ran. Like a high percentage of other movies from the sixties, this film was a melodrama. It focused on the title character Lee Poon-yi who leaves her comfortable farm and loving family in the beautiful North Jeolla Province (where I happen to live) and goes to Seoul. She makes this great sacrifice because she wants to make extra money to ensure her younger brother has enough money for his school tuition. Lacking education and refinement limits her job choices, but she is fortunate to gain employment in the home of kindly Professor Kim as a maid. Besides enabling her to earn money and allowing her a place to eat and sleep, this job enables her to come in contact with the handsome only son of the good professor and his wife, Jeong-hak. Jeong-hak is a headstrong, modern university student who does not care about the economic gap that separates him from the shy, pretty maid who cleans his room and delivers his meals. He falls head-over-heels for her charming innocence and caring ways. Of course, modest Poon-yi tries to resist, but it proves to be impossible and she too shyly returns his love. However, the good professor’s evil daughter is horrified at the developing relationship and gets her point across by doing horrible things to poor Poon-yi such as plunging the maid’s hand into a pan of scalding water. But, every cloud has a silver lining and a parboiled hand means a trip to the hospital with Jeong-hak which turns into an all day date.
But nothing is every entirely perfect. When Jeong-hak’s parents find out about the relationship, they are less than happy. However, their potential wrath and resentment are soon deflated thanks to the hard work and kindness of Miss Lee who doubles her efforts around the house and endears herself to her employers. But when she spends the night in a cabin with Jeong-hak and becomes pregnant with his child, Poon-yi knows she has crossed a line that makes it impossible for her to remain as a maid. After seeing Jeong-hak off at the station as he leaves to complete his military duty, Poon-yi quits her job and returns home. Although her younger brother is happy to see her, Poon-yi’s mother is shocked at her daughter’s condition. When she finally comes around and accepts the idea, her elder brother returns home after hearing the local gossip and is enraged at the shame Poon-yi has brought on the house. Poon-yi flees the house but returns in the dead of night to give birth in the barn. Her cries of pain are heard by her mother who comes to her aid and Poon-yi’s son is born healthy and well. Writing to Jeong-hak (who had taught her to write while she lived with him), Poon-yi tells him the good news. Hurrying to her side, Jeong-hak quickly wins over the family with humility and manners and they allow Poon-yi to return to Seoul as Jeong-hak’s wife. The end.
Yes, that’s right. It is a melodrama with a happy ending. Not common now in Korean cinema and even less so in the sixties. No one is dies of any of a number of terrible diseases; no one is hit by a car. No one even loses a parent! Aside from some relatively mild bumps in their love story, this is one happy movie which is nicely illustrated on the poster. At first I wondered why the poster gave away the last scene of the movie. I also wondered as to why it looks so different from the usual movie posters of the time which were more often than not extremely cluttered with scense from the film. But I think that can be explained by the fact that it was 1964. That was the year Korea’s top stars, the leading actors of The Beautiful Maid, were married and although the movie was released several months before the actual nuptials, it was an expected event that was on the tongues of every star watcher in Korea. It would be more than 45 years later that another celebrity wedding would even come close to matching the excitement Shin and Uhm’s wedding generated and that of course is the wedding of Jang Dong-geun and Ko So-yeong last May.
This movie, directed by Kang Dae-jin, is not available on DVD and I doubt anyone is considering it as a possible candidate for release anytime soon. It is a nice movie, but in a Rock Hudson/Doris Day kind of way and there are other, more important films that should be given the DVD treatment first… like March of Fools, Early Rain, The General’s Mustache, The Evil Stairs…
Oh– and just a quick note to those of you who might try to search for this film on the website of the Korean Film Archives (www.kmdb.or.kr). The Korean title is currently misspelled there. The title, clearly displayed on the poster as well as in newspaper ads I found and film registration records, is ??? but the KOFA database has it written as ??? which makes it impossible to search for by title. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.