'The Housemaid': Korean filmmaker casts a cold eye on a family and its servants
A review of "The Housemaid," a chilly domestic drama from Korean filmmaker Im Sang-soo.
Seattle Times movie critic
'The Housemaid,' with Jeon Do-youn, Lee Jung-jae, Youn Yuh-jung, Seo Woo. Written and directed by Im Sang-soo. 106 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity and sexuality). In Korean with English subtitles. Varsity.
It's a singular title, but two characters: Korean filmmaker Im Sang-soo's chilling, elegant thriller "The Housemaid" has a pair of women at its center; one old, one young. Byung-sik (Youn Yuh-jung), the older, has been a maid in a wealthy household for many years; she's perfected the art of quiet, unquestioning service, not to mention the nearly imperceptible eye roll. Eun-yi (Jeon Do-youn) is an innocent young woman hired to be the family's nanny — the indolent, feline mistress of the house (Seo Woo), who already has a small and watchful daughter, is expecting twins. Soon, the husband (Lee Jung-jae) notices the lovely new employee; seduction ensues, and we learn that the fragile-looking wife is something of a tiger.
A remake of the 1960 Kim Ki-young film (of the same title), "The Housemaid" glitters coldly, with its marble surfaces and scheming eyes, as it builds to its dramatic, unexpected climax. But you can see some foreshadowing here and there: a fireplace that looks like the mouth of hell, occasional shots of the characters from oddly unnerving overhead angles, a frightening scene on a staircase, a claustrophobic sense (in one shot, Eun-yi seems trapped in a tunnel of piano keys) that no good can come to those in this house during this frigid winter. The two maids eat food the family would have thrown away, knowing that they can just as easily be tossed aside themselves.
"The Housemaid" is a beautifully photographed, stealthily paced nightmare of manipulated lives and lost innocence; by its end, you're happy to be back outside, blinking in the cold air.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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