by Richard von Busack
FEEL LIKE a little class warfare? Pervy, sarcastic, frequently mean for the fun of it, the Korean import The Housemaid by Im-Sang soo is satisfyingly dirty. It’s remade from a 1960 black-and-white Kim Ki-Young film, which was apparently closer to Samuel Fuller than this version’s glossy Hitchcock stylings.
The housemaid in question is a dim, pretty little kitty named Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) who goes to work at the mansion of a wealthy family. The lady of the house, vastly pregnant, is cosseting the unborn twins in her belly, soaking in Matisse and classical music. Her spouse, the handsome Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) is as insolent as a lord and loves to relax by pounding on the piano. The couple is tended by an elder female servant called Byung-sik (Youn Yuh-jung, who makes lots of Ian McKellen faces); she solaces her own repeatedly bruised pride with loads of ciggies and drink.
It doesn’t take long for Hoon to help himself to the new maid. She doesn’t put up any resistance, despite warnings from Byung-sik. Thanks to the older maid’s double-agent role in the household, word about the infidelity reaches both the pregnant wife and her ruthless parvenu mother.
The Housemaid is drunk with elegant compositions, with owl’s-eye views of the marble floors of this mansion. This house is a guilty party, like the mansions in The Fallen Idol and Notorious. The centerpiece is a blazing fireplace big enough to roast a dozen sinners. The movie looks rich. American movies try to democratize wealth, but the costumes here are coldly luxurious and off-putting; the possessions look expensive and vaguely ill-gotten. The walls positively sag from all the fine art hung on them, mostly by Gary Indiana and Kim Jae-gwan. This spotless mausoleum reflects the unmitigated pride of a true bastard and his climbing bitch of a wife.
The Housemaid has the flamboyance of a film noir melodrama, with a strong, modern erotic strain. And to those of us on the currently losing side of the class war, it’s nice to see that the sour-faced Thelma Ritterish Byung-sik is as close to a moral center as anyone gets.