THE HOUSEMAID (2010)
Director: Im Sang-soo
Run time: 1h 47m
This stylish retelling of Kim Ki-young's classic focuses on the structures of power and the privilege of South Korea’s wealthy
Remakes of great films from the past are commonplace, but remaking perhaps the most famous film in the history of your country’s cinema is another matter altogether.
There is an oversized margin of error when undertaking a task such as this, so it is a credit to Im Sang-soo that he has managed to respect the 1960 original of The Housemaid, while also evolving his 2010 version into something fresh and modernised.
A major shift is on the central character. In Kim’s original, the housemaid, Myung-sook (Lee Eun-shim), is the ultimate femme fatale and a sexual predator intent on homewrecking. Myung-sook has only just arrived and she is catching rats with her hands, establishing an uneasy mood.
In the 2010 version, Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) is instead portrayed with naivety and provides the family’s young daughter with close and warm care.
Eun-yi is working in a restaurant when she lands the job as an au pair for the pregnant Hae-ra (Seo Woo) and her rich husband Hoon (Lee Jung-jae).
Rather than the forceful pursuit of the husband in the 1960 original, here we see the man of the house seduce Eun-yi instead. When they eventually sleep together, this is seen by the house’s long-time live-in maid Byeong-sik, or "Miss Cho" (Youn Yuh-jung), who quickly tells Hae-ra's mother of the liaison.
This results in Hae-ra and her mother plotting against Eun-yi, who in turn decides her treatment cannot go without retaliation.
Less a remake than a thematic retelling for a modern South Korea, the housemaid is no longer this cautionary tale of introducing a stranger into your family dynamic as in the 1960 version.
Instead she is at the whims and power of the country’s wealthy class, who believe they are able to treat such people with contempt and use cash pay-offs when any problems occur.
It is these modern anxieties over class and wealth, and the power such aspects allow, that structures this new incarnation.
Im Sang-soo handles the film’s composition beautifully, crafting a stylish, sexy and impactful range of shots.
The sweeping expanses of the rich household offers the ideal canvas for Im to frame Hoon arrogantly prowling around, expensive red wine in hand. This is another departure from the source material, with Kim’s original being highly claustrophobic instead.
The only aspect which stops this version of The Housemaid being considered a bonafide classic like its forerunner is that it does not quite stick the landing, with the film’s final act being slightly too melodramatic to be meaningful. That is not a consensus view though, with plenty of audiences relishing its bizarre conclusion as its high point.
Either way, Im’s brave project, in the context of Korean cinema, offers plenty that is original, while tapping into that timeless story of the au pair/housemaid influence within the previously safe walls of a family home.
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