Monetarily Affluent, Emotionally Bankrupt
Starring: Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Jung-jae
Review by Robert Patrick
“The Housemaid” is melodramatic, bound by eroticism, and vehemently suspenseful. Instead of popcorn you should bring worry beads into the theater. Director Im Sang-Soo lacquers his film with thick, sturdy strokes of emotionally dystopian themes. Our central character, Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), isn’t narrow-minded as she seems, but she is obsequious and equally disengaged from common cognitive abilities. She would rather ballroom dance with her aggressor than shun him. She wants to be loved by someone, but she assigns her emotions to people that are incapable of returning such a sentiment.
The shame of all of this is that she works for a man, named Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) that is affluent and manipulative. Her employer, in his own way, is as naive and oblivious as she is; he makes decisions that would stupify the common person. The only difference is that he can bankroll his erroneous ways. Where a conscious should be there is a stuffed wallet – the household is about as safe as a rusty bear trap. To make situations worse, Hoon’s wife, who has the civility of a butcher knife, demands that Eun-yi cater to her every need. She looks down upon Eun-yi, thinking of her as a loathsome pauper, a nitwit. The only innocent member of this allegedly pristine household is the couple’s daughter, Nami (Ahn Seo-hyeon). Nami serves as Eun-yi’s flare in the darkness, a faithful firelight in a dimly lit cave. And though there is a second maid in the house, who is fairing no better, Eun-yi is manufacturing a false sense of illumination in herself.
“The Housemaid” is a movie that is difficult to watch. It is sad to watch Eun-yi mistakenly identity her employer’s advances toward her as adoration, when really his hands are branding her with a tumultuous future. The script of this film is well written, scathingly intelligent, and monstrously well acted. There are comedic moments so black that gutting a jellyfish couldn’t even reproduce this kind of slick, slimy darkness. I would probably equate this dialogue to Howard Hawks if he had a sadomasochistic mind. And though the film goes headfirst into its awkwardly sexual mechanisms, there is a feeling, cankerous and difficult as it is to endure, that the movie is artfully touching reality through melodramatic artifice. This story may be a ball of yarn, but it’s one that is thrown at you with the speed of a Walter Johnson fastball.
Im Sang-Soo manipulates the surroundings of his characters to look sterile and disinfected; a perfect home without a touch of dirt. Eun-yi is not only the maid, but she is the dustpan that all of the dirt from the house is swept into. This material, especially during the second act when the thin sheet of formality gives way, is captivating to watch. These people are so rich and so bored that they create their own battlefields in their own home. Eun-yi is a dreamer while her employers are nightmares. The pacing can get a little rough around the edges at times, but “The Housemaid” is definitely worth the admission. Remember to prepare for eroticism, emotional violence, and lots of reprehensible laughter. Finally a remake that has a soul – and not just a body to attach its credits to.