Oriental cinema has often suffered from a martial arts image but it has made an important contribution to world cinema. This has much to do with the work of Ang Lee, who won multiple cinema awards for Brokeback Mountain and is one of the world’s most esteemed directors. Though born in Taiwan he has long lived in the States and was educated there, so he is more in the tradition of legendary cineastes like Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch and Feed Zinnemann (all from Vienna) who emigrated to the States.
My favourite Lee film is Lust, Caution an espionage thriller set in Shanghai at the time of the Second World War. It stars Tony Leung as a senior politician whose home is infiltrated by a young maid who is part of a team to assassinate him. She is seduced by him and both are compromised.
A similar theme, if not period, dominates The Housemaid. Here a young housemaid comes to work in the house of a very rich indulgent young man whose wife is pregnant with twins. She is seduced too and becomes pregnant. The girl finds herself victimised by the wife and mother, but helped by a housekeeper. All this leads to a ghoulish finale.
The film has both erotic and thriller tension. The opulence of the house is well contrasted to the bare emotions of jealousy and vengeance. Almost all the action takes place in the house, except for some hospital scenes, but this adds to the oppressive mood of the film.
The acting is uniformly good, though as the names of the South Korean cast were unknown to me, I expect they will be to you too. Tony Leung, the best known oriental actor, made a clever move by adopting a westernised name. It made me think that the servant would make a good topic for my next list (Remains of the Day; The Servant; Rebecca; The Admirable Crichton; Driving Miss Daisy) and this film merits inclusion in it.