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The Housemaid

The cover of the DVD of this 2010 South Korean film advertises it as “a sexy thriller” with star Jeon Do-youn showing her thigh no doubt to entice the punter but in fact it’s a beautifully-observed film which reminded me of Rebecca. 

The story is of of a young nanny called Eun- yi (Jeon Do-yuon) starting employment for a colossally rich businessman Hooh Goh (Lee Jung-jae) with an appropriate mansion.

His wife is pregnant with twins and Eun-yi has to care for their young daughter. Hooh Goh seduces Eun-yi who becomes pregnant. The women of the house, the wife and her villainous matriarch of a mother, conspire to get rid of her in every sense.

An interesting figure in the drama is Mrs Choi (Yuh Jung-youn), the housekeeper.

At first I thought she was a sinister Mrs Danvers figure but she turns out to be sympathetic to Eun-yi. It all ends dramatically with a clever postscript.

Why did I like it so much?

The Housemaid

Hollywood films now are invariably the product of ‘me too’ with clever women dominating.

Here was a film in which a woman was genuinely abused and taken advantage of.

However it was shaded. Eun-yi enjoyed the first sexual experience with Hooh Goh, even contributed to it willingly, and perhaps her acquiescence was part of far Eastern sexual culture.

The mansion was well-depicted, fashionable modern art, clearly an expensive interior designer, the wife Hae-ra (Woo-su) was pampered and bored.

The languid way Hooh Goh drank his expensive red wine, offering some to Eun, created a plausible if disgusting character.

Even he was shaded, as he is musically talented and assumed some responsibility for his acts.

I would not describe the film as a thriller but there was always the edgy notion that something awful was about to happen … and indeed did.

Ang Lee has done a lot for Far East cinema. However this film and The Handmaiden emphasise he is not the only director of note from that region. The director here is Im Sang Soo and this film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes where world cinema is treated more seriously than in the Academy in Hollywood.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts