The opening scene of Im Sang-Soo’s The Housemaid sets the tone and deliberately foreshadows the demise of our central character. A woman jumps off of a building and commits suicide, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown Seoul, Korea. We never learn her name, why she wanted to kill herself nor is it important. It’s a statement of the line between the upper and lower class and how the two affect each other that a majority of Korean filmmakers explore in their national cinema. Im-Sang Soo’s The Housemaid made big waves at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and deservedly received high praise from critics and audience members. The film is a technical and thematic achievement and marks the continuation of a generation of Korean filmmakers that are truly making a difference in cinema.
The Housemaid is a remake of a 1960’s Korean mellow drama that focuses on Eun-Yi, played by Jeon Do-Yeon, as a new housemaid for a rich aristocratic family. Eun-Yi is trained by Byung Sik, played by Yun Yeo-Jung, an older housemaid that has helped the family for years and knows all of the family’s dark secrets. Things get messy once the head of the household decides to have an affair with Eun-Yi, causing a series of struggles between Eun-Yi and the entire household. As the film progresses, we learn of the family’s true colors and see a conflict of class hierarchy unfold in their giant mansion.
On a technical level, The Housemaid is absolutely brilliant and does a great job motivating the plot. The cinematography helps with the subtly of The Housemaid and give the audience much to explore and expand upon through its movement and positions. During the sex scene between the Eun-Yi and her employer, all the camera focuses on is their skin and the physical proximity between them during the act. The scene is very sensual being shot this way and focuses on the raw emotion and power that an act like sex carries. The mansion is also shot in many wide shots, exploring the emptiness filled within the family’s lives. The acting from every performer is fantastic and everyone does a wonderful job in making these characters feel every bit of real.
Besides the film being a mellow drama, The Housemaid explores class hierarchy from the very opening shot to its final frame. This is a continuous theme that is explored in Korean cinema and Im Sang-Soo does a great job infusing it within this story. The family, on one side of the spectrum, throws money around, gives the each of the maids their table scraps after their done eating and live luxuriously. Eun-Yi lives in a tiny apartment, shares a bed with a close friend of hers and knows nothing of the wealthy world she enters once she becomes the housemaid. Given the situation with Eun-Yi, we see that the family uses it’s wealth to make things go away. Soo shows that this doesn’t necessarily always get rid of peoples problems and further creates distance between the two classes. In the final scene, the family is seen having a birthday party for their daughter outside, as they lavish her with gifts,speak and sing to her in English. This last shot, just like the first shot explored Eun-Yi side of the lower class, explores the wealthy side of the family. No matter what trauma has affected their lives, they’re easily consumed by the material things around them and can forget about anything, due to their social status. Those problems are still there and will remain, one side just chooses to neglect them entirely because they can afford to do so.
Overall, The Housemaid is a fantastic, erotic drama that has plenty of substance to all the style that it shows off and is a fantastic addition to a country’s world cinema. Highly Recommended!