The Housemaid is a remake of a 1960 film, both made in Korea, both with the same name. The original was a hit, both with audiences and with critics. It is now considered a masterpiece of its genre although I’m not sure if it’s to the degree of Citizen Kane or more to the degree of Head. Kim Ki-Young, the director of the original, brought a different aesthetic to Korean film then had been seen before. His work influenced many of the big Korean directors known today such as Park Chan-Wook and Bong Joon-Ho. I have not seen the original but if it is as good as I’m hearing it is, I can’t believe that news of this remake was met with much applause. And, after seeing the remake, unless the original had as big of a question mark at the end of it, I also can’t believe that this film will make many of the fans of the original film very happy.
Eun-yi (Jeon Do-youn) is a young woman who is taken from her job in a noodle shop and hired as an upper class family housemaid to take care of the house and the family’s small daughter, Hanyeo (Ahn Seo-hyun) and very pregnant wife, Hae-ra (Seo Woo). There is an older housemaid, Byung-sik (Yoon Yeo-Jung) who chose, hired and is teaching Eun-yi the ropes while simultaneously hoping and strategizing for her to fail. The head of the household is Hoon (played by Lee Jung-jae). He has been brought up in a privileged family and has never had anything denied from him. As such he quickly takes advantage of his position and slips into the new housemaid’s bed. From there the story, as any like this tends to, gets complicated.
Most of this film plays like any “up-stairs, down-stairs”, the rich vs. the poor story. All the power and opulence that those with money can flounce about is shown here. The cars they drive, the vacation homes they spend time in, the large estate they live on, the wine they drink and even the way they drink it, all go to show just how much they are at a disconnect from the women who prepare their meals and raise their children. The typical rules of what is right and wrong do not apply to them because they were not raised with such ideas. The thoughts of bumping someone off who might be causing you a bit of inconvenience or paying for someone’s silence and cooperation is as common to their thinking as breathing itself. It really is not a new thought to be placed on film, and here, not much new is said. The only person in this family who is not yet affected by these paralyzing notions is the young daughter, who speaks like a grown woman and is the most level headed of the entire bunch. The little actress who played her is amazing to watch, mostly because such a big performance comes from where it is not expected.
Everything was going pretty much according to plan then it was as if the director could not figure out how to wrap this tale up and said, “Screw it!” Truly it is disheartening that he did so. He took what could have been a solid little drama and ruined it by making the ending the only thing I can really focus on. It’s like being on a date with a good-looking, articulate, witty and fun-spirited person who has a mole on his face with a crop of 4-inch hairs growing out of it. No matter how much you want to and how hard you try, your focus always comes back to the mole. As I left the building after watching this film, the ending was the only thing that I or anyone else in my party could talk about, and not in a “Wasn’t that awesome!” way, more in the “What the heck was that?” kinda way. Even now, rethinking through the last two scenes in the film, the bile builds in me because what was not an artsy film took an artsy turn without rhyme or reason, and so the rest of the picture just pales into the background. All the solid performances by the entire cast, all the great shots accentuating the majesty of the set that they built to film in, all the brilliance of the style and look the cinematographer was able to achieve, get relegated to footnotes.
My reaction may be a bit too much, but to me a solid finish is everything. You have to bring the story home, finish with conviction. If not then everything that has come before it means nothing. Conversely, a weak story may be raised to a good story by an amazing ending. The problem with people is that they’d rather be happy then good. To analyze is to lose respect, or awe, for. The more you learn, the less you know. Never dress up for a food fight. Handle yourself with your head; handle others with your heart. Actions speak louder then words but motives can out scream actions every time. Behind every good man is someone telling him the answers. If you really want to understand me, please hear what I’m not saying, what I may never be able to say. See? Kinda crap, huh?