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Movie Review: The Housemaid

By PHILIP MARTIN ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published April 8, 2011 at 2:49 a.m.

— In Korean with English subtitles.

The Housemaid posits itself as a remake of Kim Ki-young’s 1960 blackand-white Korean thriller of the same name, but it might be more precise to say that the current film shares a title and the same basic premise as the beloved-in-some-circles camp classic.

It’s an echo of the 1960 film perhaps, but it’s an echo that has been compressed and processed, run through the stomp box that is director Im Sang-soo’s imagination.

That’s not to say it’s an improvement - the movies are sufficiently different that comparisons aren’t particularly germane. In both filmsa young woman is employed by a wealthy family (in the modern version, she isn’t even a housemaid, she’s a nanny) and embarks on an ill-advised affair with the husband.

But while the original had a morally censorious composer led astray by a vengeful, smooth-running crazy domestic who is never given a name, the dynamic in the new film is inverted. The new Housemaid features a cold, entitled man of the house, Goh Hoon (Lee Jung-Jae), seducing Eun-yia (Jeon Do-yeon, best known for Secret Sunshine), a bored and curiously docile young woman he has hired to baby-sit his young daughter while his preoccupied, consumerist wife is pregnant with twins.

In other words, the first film is a cautionary tale not unlike the Glenn Close/Michael Douglas potboiler Fatal Attraction, while the current film is a more subtle, less hyperbolic (and lessfun) critique of class and class envy. While the young nanny is more victim than predator, she’s hardly an innocent. Here she’s not scheming to take over the family, but she’s certainly open to her employer’s advances.

But maybe the most important difference is the presence of a new character in Im’s film, the chief housekeeper Mrs. Cho (Yun Yeo-Jong), who sees and knows all.

Im is an impressive technical director, though the film implodes in an overreaching (and false feeling) finale. Here it feels like Im is looking for a final bang to shock his movie past entertaining, gothic sudsiness. It doesn’t work, but you can admire his effort.

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/08/2011

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