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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Housemaid (2010)

Im Sang-soo is no stranger to controversy in his native South Korea. With films like Tears and The Presidents Last Bang landing the director in hot water for their depiction of teenage sexuality (Tears) and a blasting depiction of Politicians (Presidents Last Bang). So you can rely on the man for shock value, as well his strong visual style of story telling. With his latest release The Housemaid, he’s produced the most sexually explicit mainstream film to have come out of his homeland…

Eun Yi (Jeon Do-yeon), is hired as a nanny/maid for a disgustingly rich family who are expecting twins. The mother (Seo Woo) is due to deliver within weeks of Eun Yi’s employment so Eun Yi takes care of their first born, Nami (Ahn Seo-hyeon) while the mother worries about her figure. The husband (Lee Jeong-jae) is smitten by the new maid and it isn’t long before he’s moving in on her. An affair is sparked and when news that Eun Yi is pregnant breaks, it threatens to not just destroy their relationship, but will affect all of those within the household.

The first thing that grabs the viewers’ attention is Im Sang-soo’s glorious visual style. Each frame is a composition to be marvelled, a shot as simple as a man in a hallway has never, and should never look as beautiful – decadent in fact – as it does here. Each frame is a loving composition that leaves the viewer in awe. You could say that Sang-soo is using these exquisite visuals to hide the films flaws, which is a valid point as the film does have its issues with its rushed finale; but the visuals are essential to the film not just for aesthetics, but it helps us fall in love with the world that Eun-yi herself becomes infatuated with.

The Housemaid is a slow-burner, very little actually happens, its narrative progression is through dialogue and not set-pieces. Character actions are witnessed, but the consequences for these actions are escalated through dialogue driven confrontations which gradually builds and builds until the film literally explodes in the finale. This is the films biggest flaw, the pay-off is built-up throughout the film, yet the finale does come across as rushed. It’s the only flaw the film has, but if you’re caught up in the movies spell, which is hard not to be, it’s forgivable but others may be left disappointed.

The actors are all on form here, with Jeon Do-yeon giving a no-holds barred performance that has seen her rightly rewarded with various accolades on the festival circuit. Lee Jeong-jae also delivers a fantastic performance as a man who has it all and believes he’s entitled to everything within his household regardless of others feelings; he’s a detestable fella, yet his charisma is hard to deny; witness his Patrick Bateman-esque sexual prowess and try and hold a grudge against him.

The Housemaid may not be the masterpiece the original 1960’s version is, but as an erotic thriller the film ranks as one of the genre’s finest. A movie that is truly titillating and thrilling, the film excels with its visual-seduction as the characters sweat the screen up. It may be too slow for most, but for those with patience and appreciation for beautiful compositions and a sold story, there is plenty here to appreciate. It’s bold film and one of South Korea’s best of 2010.

You can buy the Korean DVD for The Housemaid here.

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