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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MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 2

21 July 2010

My process for selecting MIFF films each year is usually the same. I do an initial sweep off the program highlighting all the films that immediately jump out at me and noting ones of secondary interest. Those immediate interest films are the ones I book right away and bend heaven and earth to see while everything else I am happy to fit in where I can and if I can.

Here are the ten films that most grabbed my attention this year:

 I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris
Ever since I first heard about this offbeat romantic-comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as the two lovers, I’ve been looking forward to it. It has got an Australian distributor but they’ve been sitting on it for a long time now, presumably unsure about what to do with it. The same distributor almost sent The Hurt Locker direct to DVD last year so this was the first film I booked this year as who knows what might happen to it.

Air Doll
I have never seen any films by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda but at last year’s festival, missing his previous film Still Walking was my major regret as I  heard nothing but amazing things about it. So this year I was determined to acquaint myself with Koreeda and figured seeing his new film Air Doll would be as good a place to start as any.

The Housemaid
I know almost nothing about this new South Korean film except for being aware that it was as one of the films being talked about a lot during the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an erotic thriller that’s supposed to be very good so I’m sold.

Another film that I know next to nothing about except that it has attracted a lot of praise from overseas. For some reason this film has implanted itself into my subconscious as something worth seeing and that seems to be a good enough reason to a select a film as anything.

World on a Wire
I haven’t seen nearly as many films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as I would like to have seen so this rarely screened, 1973 made-for-TV cerebral science-fiction epic is another step in rectifying that.

Exodus: Burnt by the Sun 2

Exodus: Burnt by the Sun 2

Exodus: Burnt By The Sun 2
The first film I ever saw at the first MIFF I ever went to (in 1995) was Russian director’s Nikita Mikhalkov highly acclaimed Burnt by the Sun. It is still one of my all time favourite films. I haven’t heard great things about this sequel but I am nevertheless very excited about Mikhalkov reprising his role as General Kotov.

Simply because it’s the new film by Francis Ford Coppola and it can’t be any worse than Youth Without Youth, right?

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam
They showed the preview for this as the program launch and it looks great. I can’t make it to the Merle Haggard documentary so this will be my music doco fix this year.

Another trailer screening at the launch that caught my eye as it looks like it will do for tanks what Das Boot did for submarines.

Enter The Void
Irreversible was one of the best films from the last decade for me so I’ve been curious to see what Gaspar Noé would come up with next. I’m also rather anxious since Irreversible is still one of the most upsetting films I’ve ever seen. But this does sound extraordinary.

Special events
I am really looking forward to the closing night film Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll as it’s another films I’ve heard very good things about, I like that era of music and I really like actor Andy Serkis. I’m also thrilled to be seeing one of the performances of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho with Orchestra, which promises to be a pretty amazing event for film lovers and film music lover especially.

Finally, the event that I am slightly nervously looking forward to is the MIFF Shorts Awards, which I have a very small role in this year as one of the three judges. The winning films will be screened after the awards are presented so fingers crossed we pick the best films!

I’ll be back tomorrow to share my thoughts on the films screening in MIFF that I’ve already seen. Two of them are more than likely going to find themselves on my top ten films of the year list.


PS I wasn’t going to see the new Bruce LaBruce film L.A. Zombie but like most other fellow film lovers I’m pretty disgusted that the Film Classification Board is refusing to allow other people from seeing it. Tara Judah’s piece “Cultural Zombies” on her Liminal Vision blog pretty much expresses my feelings about the issue.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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