"The Housemaid - 1960"  in  News

Back by:  dongie  on  December 13, 2014 10:57 PM

"The Housemaid - 1960"

"The Housemaid - 1960"

A rather average-looking family discusses the prospect of whether or not they should hire a housemaid. Suddenly, frightening musical chords strike as credited names appear in bloody font. At last, the camera ominously settles over two children playing cat's cradle. The implications are obvious. Indeed, something terrible and horrifying will happen if this family does anything so maddening as to hire a housemaid.

For a classic film "The Housemaid - 1960" manages to come off as awfully extreme in its exploration of mundane everyday life gone horribly wrong. The messaging is weirdly neo-conservative. The title character (played byLee Eun-shim) isn't named and doesn't even seem particularly important to the story until she abruptly comes up with an obviously terrible and impossible idea for social advancement. The woman's next schemes quickly outdo each other in terms of insane oneupsmanship- a fact that takes on particular irony in the modern feminist social context, where people in her situation tend to be thought of as exploited victims.

But never mind that for the moment. Is the film entertaining or just obviously dated, like most classics when we view them with an honest eye? Well that's...hard to tell honestly. "The Housemaid - 1960" really doesn't resemble other classic Korean films in any obvious way. Nor classic cinema from other countries for that matter. The subject matter is just too crazy. Any truly accurate remake would be almost completely politically incorrect. "The Housemaid - 2010" telegraphs more obviously vilainous traits on to the family for good reason.

It's for all these reasons that watching "The Housemaid - 1960" in the modern era is all the more important. The imagination of writer / directorKim Ki-younghere clearly comes from a truly twisted and distorted dimension. Even something like rat poison appears less like a tool for getting rid of pests and more like the surreal evil product of an alternate universe, where death is cheap and money invites jealous invasion as much as the chance for fabulous home renovation projects. It's an appropriate point of view given where South Korea was at this point in history as regards modernization.

Yet even the more realistic aspects of the film are rather pronounced. There's bratty kids. Not the kind of annoying movie rapscallions written by people who obviously despise children. They're just little jerks in training. Note, however, that it's ultimately the kindness of the hosts that does them in. Being new to the whole housemaid thing, they fail to erect proper boundaries. This is even helpfully explicitly stated by a bizarre yet surprisingly down-to-earth direct aside to the audience that comes via the ending.

The production values coupled with the antiquity make "The Housemaid - 1960" a rather rare treat- the classic film which defies coherent relative analysis. It's not that I don't get this movie. It's just that the whole thing is coming from such a weird place that I have absolutely no idea what relevance it has to modern life or politics. Weird in its day, and even weirder today. As a film critic I'm always on the look out for increasingly strange novelties. Well, color me surprised that the biggest explosion of that in recent memory comes from an age now thought of as archaic. Definitely worth watching.

Review by William Schwartz

"The Housemaid - 1960" is directed byKim Ki-youngand featuresKim Jin-kyu,Lee Eun-shim,Ju Jeung-ryu,Um Aing-ranandAhn Seong-gi.

 

Available on Blu-ray from YESASIA

"The Housemaid - 1960"
Blu-ray (En Sub)

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