A remake of the 1960 Korean film of the same title, The Housemaid is an incisive look at privilege in the South Korean upper classes, and features a striking lead performance. Some curious twists and turns, however, will mean it won’t satisfy every viewer.
When Eun-yi (Do-yeon Jeon) gets a job working as nanny and housemaid in the home of an exceptionally wealthy family, she immediately falls for her young charge Nami (Ahn Seo-hyeon), but she also garners the attention of the man of the house, Hoon (Lee Jung Jae). When the inevitable affair occurs, all of the home’s residents will be drawn into the machinations and recriminations that ensue.
This is a particularly striking film to look at, and the film’s luscious appearance is a perfect match for the lifestyle on display: enough food is thrown out at the end of the day to feed a large family, and wealth is conspicuous in every room of the home. The visual successes are somewhat distracting, however, as they mask a degree of confusion about some of the characters and their choices. It also feels something of a barrier to truly engaging with the plight of the subjects, almost as if the veneer prevents the audience from empathising.
As an erotic thriller, the film succeeds in being erotic in its first act and thrilling in its second and third, although the film actually feels a little unbalanced, with a preponderance of time spent on the negative consequences of the first act. With minutes to go, however, it veers into the bizarre, and it won’t be surprising if many find it hard to relate to as a result.** The almost dreamlike absurdity of the final moments is presumably intended to show how little difference Eun-yi’s actions make, but the clash in styles is too disconcerting for the effect to be maintained.
Charged with carrying this film from start to bitter end, Jeon does a wonderful job of making Eun-yi’s actions understandable, and the disastrous results of the affair are all the more devastating as the audience is compelled by Jeon’s charisma and skill to support her. Lee is just smug enough to manage the role of Hoon, while Seo Woo does a fair job of Hoon’s conflicted wife Hae-ra.
While the film is certainly entertaining, it could be that the director’s implicit criticism and social commentary might be lost on Western viewers. Sex, however, is universal, and most everyone will be able to relate to this story of lust and its sometimes unforeseen consequences.Rating: