THE HOUSEMAID [HANYO | HANYEO | 하녀]

http://www.housemaid.co.kr/

KOREA 2010  Directed & Written by: Im Sang-Soo  Original story by: Kim Ki-Young Produced by: Jason Chae  Cinematography by: Lee Hyung-Deok  Editing by: Lee Eun-Soo  Music by: Kim Hong-Jip  Cast: Jeon Do-Yeon, Lee Jung-Jae, Seo Woo, Yoon Yeo-Jeong, Ahn Seo-Hyeon, Park Ji-Young

A young woman, Euny, takes up a job as nanny / housemaid in a wealthy family. The wife is pregnant with twins (they already have one child), while the husband is hardly ever at home. It happens however that one night he approaches Euny and for reasons only she knows she willingly begins an affair with him. Soon after, she becomes pregnant and the love triangle is starting to spiral out of control.

Im Sang-Soo’s remake of Kim Ki-Young’s film introduces a few changes over the original screenplay, but not necessarily for the better. Of course, THE HOUSEMAID has become a contemporary interpretation of the 1960 movie which reflected on the state of society back then, and tries to make references to the 21st century South Korean reality as it looks like today, but essentially the movie never manages to transcend its subtexts.

While some may see THE HOUSEMAID as a comment on Korea’s working class vs. the Chaebol, I believe that the movie is relating to reality only as far as any other movie does, that is, in being created by people whose accumulated experiences and perspectives, whose understanding of their lives and times, necessarily shows in their work. In this sense all works of art are shaped by the conditions that bore them. Other than that, it would be farfetched to claim that the film has a political agenda.

THE HOUSEMAID’s qualities lie more in the dramaturgic department after all. It’s a fine, elaborate movie, driven by subtle gestures and dialogue, making it a formidable, and at times erotic, thriller. Its visuals are well composed, the scenes carefully crafted, its pace graceful and the acting sophisticated. But the more the film relies on driving its story through interpersonal conflict, the more it exposes the loopholes and lack of character development of its script.

The biggest problem is Euny’s motivation or the lack thereof: Mr. Im has deliberately changed the way she intended to interfere with the family in the original, now depicting her as vulnerable, lost person with no goals in life who unintentionally is drawn into the love affair, a victim of coincidence and circumstance. Her weakness makes her easy prey for the husband, and things start off without her playing an active role – which later leads to the question why she turns into an increasingly manipulative person consumed by her own feelings. It also doesn’t explain why she doesn’t just walk away from the obviously hostile household, but instead endures pains that could have been easily avoided.

The reasons of the other characters are equally vague most of the time, and as a result THE HOUSEMAID never establishes logical group dynamics that would shed light on the mechanisms of violence, betrayal, revenge, or submission and domination, at some point. THE HOUSEMAID is as far away from winning the Palm d’Or (it tried) as it is from looking into the abyss of human existence, as STRAW DOGS did for example. The climax, a traumatic, Argentoesque moment presented with an out-of-place twinkle in the eye, adds little, if nothing, to a movie that has no real point or comprehensible conclusion.

THE HOUSEMAID has the appearance of a highly stylized blend of film noir and domestic farce, but never really excels beyond a superfluous melodrama or overly long soap opera episode with a lot of loose ends and sloppy storytelling. When the credits start rolling our dissatisfaction easily matches that of the characters whose longing ends in misery, without any of their questions truly answered.

J.


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One Response to “THE HOUSEMAID [HANYO | HANYEO | 하녀]”

  1. KIMCHI FLAVOR: THE HOUSEMAID [HANYEO | 하녀] « GONIN MOVIE BLOG Says:

    […] READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – – – Looks like also the Korean’s run out of […]

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