This spectacular visually titillating film from South Korea (written and directed by Im Sang-soo) is comparable to being a resident, for a brief hiatus, in a Richard Artschwager, Louise Lawler or Henri Rousseau painting. The setting, perfection in its pristine grandeur, frozen in immutable designer decor; a domicile of extreme wealth and galvanizing glory masking a black and insalubrious disease. A metaphor for Jung’s apt description of “the brighter the light, the darker the shadow”.
Jeon Do-youn is “the Housemaid”, her beauty hidden, except for minimal, tantalizing seconds, is sensational as the maid in a household of vanity, condescension, entitlement; her good heart and vulnerability break the facade of her vapid, vainglorious employers. She is their pawn, a possession to be used and discarded at whim. Do-youn’s performance is stellar in its intensity and integrity.
“The Housemaid” is a remake of the 1960 “Hanyo”; a film I did not see. Not having or needing a basis of comparison I found the sexuality, not prurient or salacious, but highly effective in defining the relationship between the maid and her employer; a man (Lee Jung-jae) so narcissistic and amoral that consequences or accountability never touch his psyche. Their scenes together are fascinating and mesmerizing; acting divine, directing celestial.
The catalyst and force of the film lies with the senior housemaid, exhilaratingly depicted by Youn Yuh-Jung; she is “Cassandra”, observing, forecasting, and controlling the evolution of events.
Occasionally, the film dissolves into the Felliniesque which is somewhat problematic but cannot sabotage the palatable, provocative power of the message.