Kim Ki-Young's 1960 The Housemaid is an eccentric classic of Korean cinema, a surrealist portrait of sexual politics (and warfare) between various classes, with disturbingly committed performances and all manner of visual hysteria. Im Sang-Soo's remake is much calmer and glossier; despite the advantage of copious nudity, the movie never raises its pulse above a frigid calm. While not as politically obscure as the director's previous The President's Last Bang, the most accessible thing about Housemaid are the genre tendencies. With high production values and a glossily enjoyable mise-en-scene, the film is watchable, and may draw in a small audience.
Sang-Soo's remake begins with a vigorous digital sequence depicting an anonymous woman's jumping suicide. The film then switches over to a glossy, well-lit aesthetic. Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) becomes the maid for the wealthy Haera (Seo Woo) and Hoon (Lee Jung-gae). As Haera goes through late pregnancy, the prowling Hoon sleeps with the smitten Eun-yi. As she takes good care of neglected daughter Nami (Seo Hyeon-Ahn), who grows attached to her, the affair grows serious. When Haera's mother (Park Ji-young) arrives, she realizes what's going on. The pregnant Eun-yi is a threat to the family's money and social position, and when she can't be bought off she attempts to stage her death as an accident.
The movie gets extreme, but none of it registers, not even the Grand Guignol finale. Sang-Soo's naturally chilly, ironically distanced style hovers too far back. He's at his most comfortable staging elaborate overhead crane shots Brian De Palma might advise or slowly tilting his camera to increasingly oblique angles. Confronted with hysteria, he resorts to elaborately shadowed and textured sex scenes or underplayed lurid violence. The film's class politics—the cyclical use and abuse of the lower classes by arrogant upper-class Koreans—couldn't be clearer, but its critique is never less than dully point-blank.
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-Jae Lae, Seo Hyeon Ahn, Seo Woo, Yeo-Jung Wun
Director/Screenwriters: Im Sang-Soo
Producers: Jason Chae
Genre: Drama; Korean-language, subtitled
Running time: 107 min
Release date: January 21 NY, January 28 LA