Film review – The Housemaid (2010)

24 October 2010
The Housemaid: Euny (Jeon Do-yeon)

Euny (Jeon Do-yeon)

The Housemaid is an erotic thriller about a maid working for an extremely wealthy family. Her subservience to the family, which includes willingly making herself sexually available to the husband, is overtly used by director Im Sang-soo to savagely critique the massive gap between the excessively wealthy and the working-class in contemporary Korea. A loose remake of a 1960 film of the same name, The Housemaid is typical of recent South Korean cinema with its kinetic style, play on generic conventions and social commentary.

This is an enjoyable film that looks impressive, is technically accomplished and is suitably sexually charged. However, its social inequality message is very heavy-handed and rather than offering any serious insight, the film functions more as a heightened melodrama. Tonally the film is enjoyably playful but both the story and message are for the most part a little simplistic and obvious. However, its completely over-the-top final scene and then bizarre epilogue are so bewildering that you are ultimately left unsure what the point of the film was after all. Surreal flourishes can be very effective but in the case of The Housemaid it leaves you feeling slightly unsatisfied.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 365, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 3

27 July 2010

I sat down last night for the final MIFF Shorts Awards deliberations with my fellow judges Alan Finney and Wendy Haslem. After lots of robust discussion, where we were all willing to have our minds changed by each other’s differing perspectives, I believe we’ve made excellent decisions about what films should win what awards. I think audiences will enjoy the diversity and high quality of all these films so come along next Sunday for the awards and screenings. There is also a repeat screening the following Sunday.

The Messenger

The Messenger

Before the judging I saw The Messenger, a film I had moderate expectations for and basically only saw because it was one of the few films I hadn’t seen that was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards this year. I’m so glad I went as it is one of the best film I have ever seen about soldiers who have returned home. It alternates between being a fun buddy film to a painful exposé  of how families react when confronted with the news that their loved ones have died while fighting. Most significantly is how plausibly The Messenger humanises these tough-guy soldier types by showing that deep inside they are broken people experiencing immense repressed pain.

[EDIT 21/11/2010: Read a full review of The Messenger]

The Housemaid

The Housemaid

I also saw The Housemaid last night and wasn’t as impressed by it as I was hoping I would be. Director Im Sang-soo was at the screening to introduce his film, and also took questions afterwards, and he frequently talked about how it is a critique of South Korean society, in particular the gap between a new class of super rich and the working classes. This is certainly reflected in The Housemaid where a young maid becomes seemingly gladly subservient to a wealthy family, including making herself sexually available to the husband. All of this was fine and the film was very engaging but I found it increasingly heavy handed, obvious and melodramatic. That may have been the point I suppose and possibly exactly what other people have liked about it but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

[EDIT 24/10/2010: Read a full review of The Housemaid]

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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