Kim Ji-young’s “The Housemaid” was an unnerving, frightful film back in 1960.
One can easily call it the “Fatal Attraction” of South Korea, the film is considered one of the greatest Korean films ever made and it all comes down to pacing, the use of tracking shots to show one happens in one room and what happens in another. The careful placement of a character to showcase sexual attraction and fatal attraction, “The Housemaid” was eerily creepy as it was a film that took a hardworking, good Korean family and by bringing a young maid into the picture who is poised to destroy the family by conquering the family patriarch is very fascinating.
Kim Jin Kyu plays the strong male character, a piano teacher that the women swoon over but he’s a happily married man that does not like his female students hitting on him. The first woman, he reports. The second woman, becomes his piano student, while the third is the maid brought by the student to work at his home.
Lee Eun-shim’s character as the maid was very fascinating because she was not a woman in traditional Korean outfits. She was stylish in the 1960′s and no doubt a femme fatale character that could appear in today’s films and people would think her style is quite modern. Beautiful, sexy but also eerie.
By the time she moves into the home of the Kim family, just within the first several minutes, she catches a rat by her hand and smashes it. When she overhears the piano student making threats that she’ll cry rape since the teacher refuses her advances, the maid uses that as a way to get what she wants and that is Mr. Kim. Using blackmail, she forces him to seduce her.
And what a sexy scene that Kim Ki-young brings to the film, with him putting his hands on the naked housemaid, a scene of her stepping on his shoes and a bolt of lightning striking down the tree to show that the two made love.
But from that moment on, things get worse when the maid gets pregnant and when she tells Mr. Kim about it, he tells his wife, who has the maid throw herself on the stairs to abort the baby. But while the maid’s baby dies, Mrs. Kim announces that she is pregnant and the Housemaid goes into psycho mode, literally taking the family hostage and having them obey her wishes as she uses threats to ruin the family and Mr. Kim’s career.
While it’s ending may seem a bit of campy for today’s audiences, especially those who are familiar with the 2010 film which is more horror, creepy and bloody, the 1960 version has so much going on that you can’t believe this South Korean film was ever made during the 1960′s. Fortunately, the film was able to be made during the transitional government of Korea 1960, but for it to show violence against a family, the sexuality of the film and its shock value for its time, because of its bold nature, Kim Ki-young’s breakthrough film would become a major influence due to its storyline but most importantly the way the film was directed and how scenes were carefully planned.
It’s a melodrama that really captivates you due to its unnerving storyline and I can only imagine how this film went over with audiences back in 1960.
The film also marks a time when Korea was going through changes and the class structure of who is successful or wealthy became a part of culture but also women looking for a role in society to earn money for their family. The women depicted in the film are working in factories, the mother of children earns money by sewing, etc. and how a middle-class family is able to take in a maid. A difference between this film and the 2010 Im Sang-soo film which takes the family out of the middle class and makes them wealthy.
And because it was a time where people were becoming per-occupied with becoming successful, many may wonder why would a man let things spiral so out of control within his family for the fear of losing his job. And unlike today’s society where people can quit or get fired from a job to work at another similar or different position, in Asia, people carry their occupation as a form of respect. And for the character of Dong-sik Kim, with a family, a child who is disabled, a new home, piano and trying to have that lifestyle of being “successful”, it’s the moral issue of placing moral status too high and the family becoming trapped in their situation.
If you enjoy films such as “Fatal Attraction” or want to experience a dark Korean ’60s melodrama, “The Housemaid” is an enjoyable film which has earned its reputation as one of the greatest Korean films ever made. Kim Ki-young’s “The Maid” is recommended!