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The Housemaid

aka - Hanyo
Korea 2010
Directed by
Sang-soo Im
106 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

The Housemaid

Synopsis: Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) is a young woman who goes to work as a maid and nanny for a very wealthy Korean couple, husband, Hoon (Lee Jung-Jae) and wife, Haera (Seo Woo), who is heavily pregnant with twins. Eun-yi is instantly adored by the family’s little daughter, Nami (Ahn Seo-Hyeon), but she also attracts the attention of the philandering Hoon with whom she starts an affair, with devastating consequences.

This is a remake of a 1960 South Korean film of the same name, but with the tables turned, in that in the previous film it was the housemaid who caused grief for the family, but here it is in reverse. The family in the modern version is rich, almost obscenely so, living in a house typical of decadent Westerners (apparently in reality a growing sector of Korean society). The nasty thing that goes with these people’s wealth is their total disregard for those of lowlier status.

The Housemaid opens with a suicide, something observed with cold disregard by certain observers, and a mystery which we only really come to understand at the film’s conclusion. We are then swept into the world of Eun-yi who starts out as a kitchen-hand and sharing a bed with her frumpy friend, before she gets what seems the opportunity of a lifetime  - to work for the rich folks on the hill. She shares a servant position with the dour-faced Mrs Cho (brilliantly portrayed by Youn Yuh-jung), an older woman who has obviously been with the family a long time, and from whose wary eye nothing escapes. Mrs Cho describes the whole situation as “Revolting, Ugly, Nauseating and Shameless” (RUNS), but is she referring to herself, the family or the role of the servant class in general?

This family treats its servants as less than human, talking about them as if they weren’t standing right there, even making them tie their shoelaces and leaving Eun-yi in the snow while they wallow in a hot tub on holiday. Eventually they disregard her most basic human rights in an immoral and abhorrent manner. While Hoon is a man used to getting what he wants, sexually domineering and puffed up with the trappings of power, it is ultimately the women, both Haera and her glamorous, cold mother-in-law (Park Ji-Young) who prove to be the most ruthless.

The film is beautifully shot and the suspense escalates as the convolutions of the plot develop. All the characters play their roles to perfection and there is a goodly smattering of sexual titillation amongst the thrilling elements. Unfortunately the whole thing comes to a rather stunningly melodramatic and unbelievable ending with an incident that just doesn’t ring true which is in turn followed by a rather odd final scene which leaves one wondering what in fact has been happening. Such a disappointing finish for a film that otherwise thrills at the same time as being an indictment of the ultra-rich and those who both benefit and suffer at their hands.





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